For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin [even though Jesus] knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
I will say this from the word go. If you can wrap your mind around this you will be well on your way to living a life that is pleasing to the Lord. If, however, you are like me, then you may struggle to make sense of how it could be possible for us to receive the righteousness of God in Christ.
This is possibly one of the most loving and compassionate verses of scripture in the Bible. It reveals the motivation in God’s heart toward us. Paul is telling us that as we go out into the world as ambassadors for Jesus what we are telling the world is that God has done something so awesome, so mind blowing that if we really thought about it we would break out into spontaneous praise! There are several key points of interest in this ONE verse that I want to highlight. I will break it down so that we can appreciate what Paul is saying.
1. Why?: “For our sake…”
Paul is saying that the reason that God has acted in the way that he did; the reason that we are the beneficiaries of God’s unmerited favor is because God was thinking about us from the beginning. This does not make us the center of God’s affections. What this describes is that the reason for Jesus dying was because God knew, understood and accepted the fact that without Jesus death there would be no life for anyone.
It was for OUR sakes that Jesus came.
It was for OUR sakes that Jesus lived.
It was for OUR sakes that Jesus died.
It was for OUR sakes that Jesus was raised again on the third day.
This is the why of Jesus entire life and ministry on earth. It was for our sakes! This cannot be understated, overstated, minimized or made too important. What Jesus did is beyond comparison. What Jesus accomplished can never be duplicated. What Jesus did can never be undone.
2. Who?: “God made…”
There is nothing in salvation that can be attributed to my efforts as a sinner. There is nothing that I can contribute to the process or the event. Salvation is such a gift from God that God did not and does not see fit to entrust me with any aspect of it. He knows that if I were to lay my hands on salvation I would so damage it that it would become useless. Not sure about this? Look at what Peter has to say on the subject. (What a wonderful passage of promise!)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV, emphasis added)
The wonder of God’s love is that he secures the grace and salvation that he provides. He is unwilling that anyone should lose what he has carefully provided through the death of his Son. God does not even trust me to maintain it. God does that himself. This is grace through and through, from beginning to end.
3. How?: “made [Jesus] to be sin [even though Jesus] knew no sin…”
Right here, at this point we run into one of those theological puzzles. How is it that God has provided for us what we need more than anything else, his righteousness? The Scripture says that Jesus was made to be sin. The idea was that Jesus became sin. Not that Jesus committed a sin; not that Jesus sinned, but that somehow he became the very thing that I am, without actually being guilty of doing anything wrong.
I think you are beginning to see the difficulties here. How is this possible? There is a concept that we have to understand. It is described by a big word, but is can be understood rather easily. The concept is imputation. According to Theopedia “Imputation is used to designate any action or word or thing as reckoned to a person.” If you think of it this way it might help. I love to smear butter on a freshly baked dinner roll. The butter is not a part of the roll, but when I take the knife and I apply the butter, I imputed the butter to the bread.
This is the idea. Jesus did not change who he was, but something was added to him that was not his, in this case the sin of the whole world. This is why Paul says that God made Jesus to be sin, because if God had not, Jesus could not die as our substitute and redeem us from the very sin that was condemning us to hell. This is the miracle of Jesus’ life.
There is a great book by Peter Lewis, The Glory of Christ. In it he writes these amazing few sentences describing what was taking place when Jesus showed up on the scene as a human being, just like you and me.
“It comes to this: for our salvation it is as necessary that the Son of God be truly and fully human as that He be truly and fully divine. If this humanity is less than full and true, then he is inadequate as a mediator, incompetent as a sympathizer and disqualified as a redeemer. If (save for sin) He is not all that we are in our uttermost humanity, the He cannot perfectly represent us either in His life or in His death. If He does not descend to us from God, the He cannot lift us up to God.” (pg. 142)
The wonder and mystery of the incarnation is the linchpin that makes our redemption possible and sure. In the incarnation God paved the way to the cross. And at the cross Jesus became guilty of something he never did, your and my sin.
4. Where?: “so that in [Jesus]…”
As we move from the “Why” to the “Who” and pass through the “How” we arrive at the “where.” Where is it that God places us after Jesus has taken our place on the cross? This short clause packs a powerful punch in answering that for us. Listen to where God has put us. God has put us in him. But how can it do that? He can do that because that is what the plan was. Those two words, “so that,” right there are the arrows point to God’s design. But, what do those two words mean? What they mean is that
Based on what has been said before, what comes after IS GUARANTEED!
Do not miss that. Do not read this truth and just pass along as if something ordinary has happened!
This is the power of what is happening here in this verse. The reason that God is able to give to us what rightfully belongs to Jesus is because Jesus took from us what rightly belonged to us and made it his own. We are heading toward heaven because Jesus punched the ticket with a blood soaked nail. This is not a cheap fare. The Gospel moves us from the Glory of God to the Grace of God. The journey from glory to grace goes right through the terrible door of the Judgment of God that falls directly upon Jesus.
The second part of this clause is that all of this takes place “in Jesus.” And here is where true Christianity is separated from all other religions, philosophical systems and ideologies of the world. If a person does not come to Jesus, trust in Jesus, hold to Jesus and rely on Jesus all of the benefits of God’s righteousness will not be enjoyed. And what’s worse they will never be applied to the sinner’s account.
Salvation in Christ is conditional. All of salvation depends on our staying in Jesus and only Jesus.
5. What?: “we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is the great truth of the Gospel. The Gospel, I believe answers this question: What is the ultimate goal of God’s redemption plan? The Gospel preaches Christ crucified, buried and raised so that we may become sons and daughters of God. So that we might become heirs and joint heirs with Jesus. So that we might be transformed, conformed and renewed in every area of life. But, all of this presupposes that we are now something different. What we have become has changed. FOREVER!
God’s plan for salvation was not an afterthought. God knew what it was going to take to redeem a fallen human race. And Jesus willingly stepped down from his thrown at the right hand of God and stepped into the finite, fallen world of sinners. At the heart of this act of undefiled love is the understanding that without sacrifice the price of salvation would never have been paid. Without out Jesus’ death there is no imputed righteousness.
Faith in Christ, the kind of faith that sets a person free from sin, fear and all of the traps that lead to bondage can only come when we freely receive the righteousness of God. It is not something that can be won, earned or coerced. It must be enjoyed, plain and simple. To do otherwise is to jeopardize living into the full reality of God’s grace. Don’t make that mistake.
Receive what has been given. And, then do what you should be doing already, leave it all in God’s hands.
- Faith is… Standing on the Word of God | “Faith is…” Series, Pt. 11 (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- Faith is… Caring for the People of God | “Faith is…” Series, Pt. 12 (thereformedwesleyan.com)