MacLeod Campbell has taught us that the purpose of Christ's atoning and reconciling work is best seen in the way Christ went about it. It's purpose and its nature is one. How he accomplished it and what he wanted to accomplish aren't different in character.
The cross (death) of Christ is not just the termination point of his sinless life; it is the completion of that life freely offered. In his death Christ deliberately drew a line under all he did and might have done in his life on earth. His death was accomplished as well as endured. From one angle it had an historical contingency and on the other it was eternally purposed and carried out through and under contingent responses. (Beyond the historical inevitability there was no necessity for men to have murdered the Christ. That is, given the world as it was, the death of Christ was inevitable but the world didn't have to be as it was.)
So the death of Christ is to be taken up into the fullness of his life of holy obedience to his Father. But the death without the holy and sinless life would have no meaning. His life and death belong inextricably together in the atoning and reconciling work of God. There is no atoning life that is not poured out in an atoning death.
Having said that, the life of Christ (his death included) is not only the sacrifice that works atonement and reconciliation, it expresses the nature of the reconciliation that God seeks to accomplish. It is not just "some sort" of appeasement God is looking. It isn't a mere absence of overt hostilities that he's pursuing. What he wants is shown in the whole Incarnation and Cross-experience of Christ. He demonstrates in Christ's living before him what it is he is after. In Christ he finds what he wants from and for humanity. In Christ, his living and his dying, God spells out the nature of "reconciliation" and spells out what it means to be at peace with him. And it is in Christ's atonement for sin that forgiveness is made possible so that reconciliation is freely offered to humans.
In the atoning life and death of Jesus Christ God makes it clear that his purpose is broader than any one of the rich blessings that is part of the full reconciliation enterprise in which he is engaged.
Whatever God is after is part and parcel of his atoning and reconciling work in Christ.
He isn't after a host of pardoned people.
He isn't after a host of people he can bless.
He isn't after a host of people he can take to heaven with him.
He is after a restored relationship with those who estranged themselves.
Therefore he is after a realignment of their hearts and lives with his.
Therefore the atoning/reconciling work of Christ is relational and realigning.
Therefore bringing us to the obedience of faith is part of his reconciling work.
Therefore bringing us to faith in Christ is realigning our hearts to God.
Therefore "faith" is ethical in character as well as a confession of dependence. (This might help in working with Romans 4 and James 2.)
Therefore to denude faith of its ethical character is a serious reductionism.