2 Corinthians 5:21


Friday, 21 August 2015

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

From time to time, it is recommended by the commentator that a verse should be memorized and ready to be repeated at all times. This is one of them. In grasping the words of this verse, we find what the significance of the cross truly is. The order of the words in Greek show an emphasis which is lacking in our translations – “Him that knew no sin He made sin for us.”

God sent Jesus on a definite mission in order to redeem fallen man. He was born without inherited sin and He lived His life perfectly under the law, God’s standard for man. This is testified to on numerous occasions in the New Testament, such as John 8:46, John 14:30, Hebrews 7:26, 1 Peter 2:22, and etc. In being perfect and sinless, Jesus was thus qualified to become a sacrifice of atonement for those who otherwise had no hope.

It is important to note that the words “to be” are inserted by the translators, but are not in the Greek. Instead it says “He (has) made him sin.” Does this merely mean a sin-offering, or does it literally mean He was made sin? The answer is to be found in the Old Testament sacrificial system.

An innocent animal was brought before the Lord and the offender laid his hands on it and confessed over the animal. In this act, the sin was transferred to the animal. Thus the animal became not just the sin offering, but the sin itself. The transfer was made in accordance with the law and therefore God viewed the offender as having been purified and the animal as being sin-filled. The “sin-offering” does not mean that the sin was offered to God, but that the animal which was “the sin” was to be killed because “the wages of sin is death.” The life of the offender (the recipient of the transfer) was offered in order to remove the sin.

For this reason, the sin offering was to be wholly burnt; none of it was to be eaten. If the sin-offering was consumed, it would in essence be a “taking in again” of the sin which was transferred to the animal.

However, the book of Hebrews shows that this was only a picture of faith in the greater work of the Lord because, “…it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). These Old Testament sacrifices only looked forward to the work of Christ. And this is exactly what Christ did for them (looking forward), and for us (looking backward) on the cross.

God sent Him on this mission – perfect, pure, and spotless. He went to the cross bearing sin – our sin. The transfer is from the offender to the innocent and so He literally became sin. As the “wages of sin is death,” then He had to die in order for the sin which was transferred to Him to be removed. But, something more incredible occurred. Because He had no sin of His own, He died not “in” sin, but “for” sin. Without His own sin, it was not possible for Him to remain dead (Acts 2:24). Thus, He rose from the dead.

Therefore, sin was judged in Him – our sin. Once such a judgment is rendered, it can never be made again. And so an exchange was made at the cross. God made Him “sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” As our sin has been judged, then there is only righteousness left. In God’s eyes, our sin – past, present, and future – has been judged in Christ. Without any sin, we have become the righteousness of God in Christ.

This concept spoken of here is similar to that of Galatians 3:13 –

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)…

The law stood against us and testified to our sinful state, but Christ who fulfilled the law condemned that sin through His marvelous work. Again, Paul speaks of this in Romans –

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh…” Romans 8:3

This “righteousness of God” is something that we cannot do without if we are to be reconciled to Him. Either we possess it, or we can never enter into His presence. As Charles Ellicott notes –

“The ‘righteousness of God,’ as in Romans 3:21-22, expresses not simply the righteousness which He gives, nor that which He requires, though neither of these meanings is excluded, but rather that which belongs to Him as His essential attribute.”

As incredible as it seems, Christ Jesus was seen as our sin there on Calvary’s cross. At the same time, we were (and are even now) viewed as Christ’s perfection. Because of His work, we take on a new nature in God’s eyes.

Life application: Because God views us as sinless, isn’t it right that we act as such? The cost of our sin was the life of our perfect, sinless Lord. As He died for us, let us endeavor to live for Him.

Heavenly Father, I cannot get my mind beyond the cross of Christ. Jesus went there for my sin, taking it upon Himself. And at the same time, I was given His righteousness. With that thought always before me, I would pray for the strength and the wisdom to live my life according to Your word, knowing that my coming judgment is not for salvation or condemnation, but for rewards based on my walk in Christ. As He died for me, help me to live for Him. This I pray that you will be glorified in this life I live. Amen.

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