Christianity is uniquely
different from all the world religions.
God reconciled sinful man
to Himself by making His sinless Son the sin bearer
and dying in the sinner's place. Jesus Christ paid
the death penalty for the sinner so that God could
set the sinner free and declare him righteous in His
holy presence. Moreover, He did more than just
forgive us our sins; He imputed the perfect
righteousness of His Son to us. A great exchange
took place. Christ got all our sin and guilt; we got
His perfect righteousness standing before God. His
righteousness was exchanged for our sin.
The apostle Paul wrote:
"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled
us to Himself through Christ and gave us the
ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The word "reconcile" in the original (katallasso)
is an old word for exchanging coins. It denotes "to
change, exchange" especially money, then of
individuals "to change from enmity to friendship, to
reconcile." "For if while we were enemies we were
reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much
more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by
His life" (Romans 5:10). God’s love provided the
means and foundation for man’s reconciliation to God
against whom he had sinned. God’s own sense of
justice had to be satisfied (Rom. 3:26). We deserve
the wrath of God. Therefore, God gave His Son as a
propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25; Col. 1:20; 1
John 2:2; 4:10). By means of His own sacrifice of
His Son He turns away His own wrath toward the
believer. God needs no reconciliation; we are the
ones who need to be reconciled to Him. We are the
sinning rebels. This has to be done on God’s terms
and is made possible through the death of Christ.
Two great passages of
Scripture present the heart of the Good News of
Jesus Christ. They also guide us through the
difficult, hard to understand passages.
"For God so loved the
world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life" (John 3:16).
God demonstrated "His
righteousness at the present time, so that He would
be just and the justifier of the one who has faith
in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). How can God be a righteous,
holy and just God and justify the sinner? How can a
holy and righteous God maintain His own integrity by
justifying guilty sinners? Or to state it another
way, how can a person be right with God?
The apostle Paul told us
how God did it. "He [God] made Him [Jesus Christ]
who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we
might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2
Corinthians 5:21). The foundation for everything in
our Christian life is based on the atoning sacrifice
of Jesus Christ, and the imputation of the perfect
righteousness of Christ to the believing sinner.
Note the contrast and results in this great verse.
He [God] made
who knew no sin
to be sin
on our behalf
God is responsible for
our eternal salvation, "namely, that God was in
Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not
counting their trespasses against them, and He has
committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2
Corinthians 5:19). God caused a double transfer to
be made. Our sins were imputed to Christ, and His
perfect righteousness is imputed to us. He bore our
sins; we are clothed in His righteousness. All of
our sins were placed on Christ. He was punished for
our sins. All our guilt was placed on Him and He
died in our place. Christ's righteousness was
imputed to us, the believing sinners in order that
we might be accepted by Him. God acquits the guilty
sinner who believes in the atoning sacrifice of
Jesus Christ for his sins.
GOD IS A HOLY AND JUST
The marvelous beauty of
this great passage is that "God was reconciling" us
to Himself. Many proud individuals want to blame God
for the world's problems. However, the truth is God
has done something about mankind's greatest problem.
He is a sovereign
He has absolute power to
do as He pleases.
He created the heavens
and earth and man all that is in it. All of creation
is accountable to Him. Every created thing lives and
breathes and has its existence because of the
creative and sustaining presence of God. Sinful man
answers to God; not the other way around.
God does not have to
answer to anyone. In His nature He is absolutely
free to do as He pleases. He does not answer to
anyone. You and I do not have that freedom.
He is absolutely
God is a God of infinite
justice. Because of His holy nature, He cannot
However, in direct
contrast all of mankind has come short of the glory
of God (Rom. 3:23). Our sin problem is defined and
illustrated in the first three chapters of Romans.
The indictment is vividly clear. We have failed to
be what God wants us to be. We can only plead guilty
before God because we are guilty.
The penalty is death
(Rom. 6:23). "For the wages of sin is death, but the
free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our
Lord." Man is dead in trespasses and sins and
incapable of solving his sin problem. "And you were
dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you
formerly walked according to the course of this
world, according to the prince of the power of the
air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons
of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly
lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the
desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by
nature children of wrath, even as the rest"
God is a God of
What we could not do for
ourselves, God stepped in and did for us. We are
spiritually dead in the eyes of God and remain so
until we receive spiritual regeneration through the
presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We remain
spiritually dead until we are born again.
John Calvin wrote: "The
only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as
manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our
salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the
sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is
their only righteousness, since, by His obedience,
He has wiped off our transgressions, by His
sacrifice appeased the divine anger, by His blood
washed away our stains, by His cross borne our
curse, and by His death made satisfaction for us. We
maintain that in this way man is reconciled in
Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by
no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy."
JESUS CHRIST IS THE
The Lord Jesus Christ
died under the curse of the broken law. "The wages
of sin is death." "The soul that sins will surely
die." For whose sins did He die? Was He a guilty
Christ knew no sin
in His human and divine nature.
He never experienced
personal sin. No man has ever stood before God and
said, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46)
Here was the one sinless person who ever lived. He
knew no sin. In Him was no sin found. He was
perfectly sinless. His inner being was absolutely
free from any inclination to evil. He fulfilled
perfectly the will of God when He prayed, "Not my
will; Your will be done." Then He went out and
submitted to that will and fulfilled it by dying on
the cross. Jesus said, "For this reason the Father
loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may
take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but
I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority
to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up
again. This commandment I received from My Father"
Christ knew no sin of any
kind. He knew no sinful thought; He committed no
sinful transgression; He said no sinful word; He
committed no sinful deed; He was pure, spotless,
As God He could not
Christ is God of very
God. He is the same substance with the Father,
co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent. God cannot sin;
Christ the eternal Son of God cannot sin. He enjoyed
unbroken fellowship with the Father saying, "I and
the Father are one," and "I am in the Father and the
Father in Me" (John 10:30; 14:10; 17:11, 21).
As fully man He did
"For we do not have a
high priest who cannot sympathize with our
weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all
things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
He suffered greater temptation because He was holy.
Christ "committed no sin, nor was any deceit found
in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). Christ did not
experience personal sin. He was spotless, pure,
sinless. "Then Pilate said to the chief priests and
the crowds, 'I find no guilt in this man'" (Luke
23:4; cf. John 19:4, 6). Jesus Christ is
"Righteousness-Itself." He could never be our
righteousness if He were for one moment unrighteous.
God the Father testified, "This is My beloved Son,
in whom I am well-pleased" (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The
writer of Hebrews said, "For it was fitting for us
to have such a high priest, holy, innocent,
undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above
the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26).
The penitent sinner who
was a well versed sinner declared, "And we indeed
are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we
deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing
wrong" (Luke 23:41). The Roman centurion upon the
death of Christ, ". . . began praising God,
saying, 'Certainly this man was innocent'" (Luke
We are just the
opposite of Jesus.
He was sinless; we are
guilty sinners. We stand condemned in the presence
of a righteous God. Ezekiel 18:4 says, "The soul
that sins will surely die." The person who sinned
was exposed to the fierce wrath of God.
God imputed our
sins to Jesus Christ.
"He [God] made Him [Jesus
Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so
that we might become the righteousness of God in
Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God made Christ to be sin
for us the sinners. God regarded or treated Christ,
who was sinless, as a sinner. God regarded our sins,
i.e. the believers as if our sin belonged to Christ.
God made Jesus sin by imputing to Him our sin. Our
sins were charged to the account of Jesus Christ.
God is the author of our
salvation. He charged Christ with our sins. Peter
declared "this Man, delivered over by the
predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you
nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and
put Him to death" (Acts 2:23).
Christ paid the wages of
sin as if He were the condemned sinner. "The wages
of sin is death." Therefore, He died that death for
us. "Christ 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'" (Galatians
3:13). Christ "bore our sins in His body on the
cross" (1 Peter 2:24). Christ gave His life and died
in order to satisfy God's holy wrath against sin.
Only the One who was entirely without sin of His own
could bear the sin of others. No one else could
qualify to be the sin bearer.
No one states its clearer
than the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. "Surely our griefs
He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we
ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and
afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4). "But He was pierced
through for our transgressions, He was crushed for
our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being
fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed"
(Isaiah 53:5). "All of us like sheep have gone
astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but
the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall
on Him" (Isaiah 53:6). God sacrificed His own Son
for us. Christ bore our iniquities (v. 11).
"Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the
great, and He will divide the booty with the strong;
because He poured out Himself to death, and was
numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore
the sin of many, and interceded for the
transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). The vicarious nature
of Christ's death is clearly in view. Christ though
perfectly holy, was treated by God as if He were a
guilty sinner. He took the place of the sinner and
suffered for Him (Rom. 5:6-11; 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:3;
Gal. 3:13). "You know that He appeared in order to
take away sins; and in Him there is no sin" (1 John
3:5). God made the Sinless One to be sin for the
sinner. God made Him sin--don't take that statement
Why did God make Him sin
for us? Our redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation,
etc. demands that the innocent Son of God bear the
full wrath of God against sin. God judged Him and
found Him guilty! "The wages or sin is death!"
Christ became our
In becoming sin for us,
Christ became our substitute. The apostle Peter
wrote: "knowing that you were not redeemed with
perishable things like silver or gold from your
futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,
but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished
and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Peter
On the day Christ died,
the Passover lambs were being slain at the Temple in
Jerusalem. They were sinless substitutes. They were
chosen because they were without spot or blemish.
Jesus was the Lamb of God who was slain for sinners
(John 1:29). It was for our sins that He died. Our
sins which separated us from God have all been
removed, and now God can accept us based upon the
sacrifice of Christ. Based upon that atoning
sacrifice, God drops all charges against, declares
us acquitted, and dresses us in His righteousness.
The Reformer, Zacharius
Ursinus declared: "God grants and credits to me the
perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of
Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been perfectly obedient as Christ was
obedient for me."
Christ died in our place,
for our sake. He is our atoning sacrifice. "For
Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for
the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having
been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in
the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). "For while we were still
helpless, at the right time Christ died for the
ungodly" (Romans 5:6). "But God demonstrates His own
love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
The apostle Paul tells us
"one died for all, therefore all died," stressing
the perfect representation on Christ. There is no
sin or guilt whatsoever which Christ did not bear.
Nor is there any righteousness which believers do
not obtain from God in Christ.
Place your sins on
The Old Testament
sacrifices illustrate the work of Christ's
substitutionary atonement. The sinner brought his
animal sacrifice to the altar and laid his hands on
the head of the animal and confessed his guilt. The
animal had done no wrong. The animal died in the
place of the sinner. The sinner by faith, comes and
puts his hands on Christ's head, confessing all his
sins. They have all been imputed to Christ who died
in the sinner's place. Christ was punished as if He
were the guilty sinner.
Take all of your sins,
every sin you have ever committed and place them on
Christ. Think for a moment of every evil thought
that has gone thought your mind, every evil deed or
behavior you have ever done, every sinful
imagination that flashed upon your mind, every evil
desire you have fulfilled, etc. Place them all on
Christ. What a seething mass of iniquity. He died
for you. Think of every believer for whom Christ
died the world over, down through the centuries.
Christ died bearing all of that load of sin. "He
[God] made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be
sin on our behalf, so that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus became in a
judicial, legal way the representative for sin and
died in our place. He paid my sin debt in full. He
took my place because I am a condemned sinner and He
died for me. He paid my death penalty. I deserved to
die; He died my death. Christ died for the sins of
everyone past, present, and future. He became sin on
Because of that great
fact, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the
believer. It is in Christ our Righteousness that the
sinner is made the righteousness of God.
GOD IMPUTES THE PURE
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF JESUS CHRIST TO THE BELIEVER
The object of the
vicarious suffering of Christ on our behalf was that
we should become the righteousness of God in Christ
Jesus. Therefore, God regards and treats the
believing sinner as righteous, not having a
righteousness of our own, but having a real
righteous standing before God. God is the author and
giver of this righteousness. "He [God] made Him
[Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our
behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of
God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Christ's righteousness to the believing sinner.
No other religion in the
world teaches this great truth. Everyone else is
working to get a right relationship with God. In
grace, the Bible tells us, God takes the perfect
righteousness of His Son and places it on the
believing sinner as a perfect robe. Yes, the
believing sinner stands in the presence of a holy
God robed in the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The righteousness God has manifested is through
faith in Christ for all who believe.
This righteousness is
that which justifies, or satisfies the demands of
the law. The believing sinner stands just in the
sight of the law. The law or justice is satisfied by
the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of the sinner. The
believer has a new legal standing before God. This
is not our inward moral state because we are still
sinners. We are now saved sinners with a legal
standing before God. In the eyes of a holy God we
are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous
by God based on the saving work of Christ.
Christ was made "sin" and we are made
"righteousness." He was treated as if He were a
sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure,
however we are treated as if we were righteous,
though we are defiled and depraved. He does not tell
us to get or earn or merit righteousness, but
"become the righteousness of God in Him." We are
identified with God's righteousness in Christ.
This, however, does not
evade the responsibility to live out in daily
experience our new relationship with God. It is our
responsibility to take off the old man and put on
the new in our daily life.
A fully adequate perfect
righteousness was provided for the believer to meet
the exacting demands of a righteous God. The only
righteousness that can possibly meet God's demands
is that which He alone provides through Jesus
Christ. You and I cannot produce it because we are
sinners. God alone can provide it. He provides an
everlasting righteousness. Therefore, He is called
"the Lord our righteousness." He is made
righteousness to us, and we are made the
righteousness of God in Him.
When Adam sinned in the
Garden of Eden, God in His marvelous grace walked in
the garden searching out Adam and Eve. The guilty
sinners tried to cover up their mess by sewing fig
leaves together to make an apron, however, God "made
garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed
them" (Gen. 3:21). Where did these skins come from?
From the context of the passage and the rest of the
Bible, I think it is clear God had given them
instructions about a sacrifice to be offered for
their sins. God provided the sacrifice and with the
slain animals' skins covered their bodies. The
sinless substitute animals that died as sacrifices
for their sins provided the coverings for their
Again, the Old Testament
pictures for us the amazing atonement of the perfect
sacrifice of the Lamb of God dying for our sins on
the cross, and clothes us with robes of pure
righteousness. We stand before a holy God dressed in
robes of righteousness without spot and without
blemish. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote: "I will
rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in
my God; For He has clothed me with garments of
salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of
righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a
garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her
jewels" (Isaiah 61:10).
Believing sinners are
treated by a righteous God as righteous through
their union with Christ. They are justified and
saved. God sees us "in Christ."
righteousness is given freely.
It is given freely to all
who believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus
Christ. Christ presents us before the Father clothed
in His perfect righteousness. We are clothed with
His robes of pure righteousness. It is "the
righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
for all those who believe" (Rom. 3:22a; Cf. Rom.
4:6-8; 10:3-4, 6-10). We are justified freely by
God's free grace through the redemption that is
provided by Christ Jesus.
The atoning sacrificial
death of Christ is sufficient for every person in
the world, but it is efficient only for all who
believe on Him. Every individual must decide what He
will do with that sacrifice. Only those who
appropriate Christ's death through faith receive His
forgiveness and righteousness standing before God.
Christ died for all who believe on Him. Your
personal faith is an essential element in your
salvation. Only the individual who places His trust
in Christ receives eternal life and reconciliation
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
self-righteousness never gives us a right standing
Because Jesus bore all
the sins of all who believe on Him, God regards and
treats the believer as having a legal status of
"righteousness." We have a right standing before
God, not because of anything we have done. The only
way of reconciliation with God is the atoning
sacrifice of Christ our Righteousness.
God imputed our
sins to Christ and punished it.
Because Christ was our
sinbearer, God imputed the righteousness of Christ
to us. Christ was sinless; sinners were evil. Christ
said, "My Father, treat me as I were a sinner; treat
the sinner as if he were Me."
The apostle Paul's prayer
was "that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him,
not having a righteousness of my own derived from
the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which comes from God on the basis
of faith" (Philippians 3:9).
By imputing sin to
Christ, God imputes His perfect righteousness to the
believer. God now sees the believing sinner as
perfect as His Son, because He sees us "in Christ."
You are perfect in Christ Jesus. You are robed in
the pure garments of Christ. "Therefore there is now
no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
We have a new
position before God because we are "in Christ."
Christ is the head of our
family. Adam is no longer the head of our family.
"For as through the one man’s disobedience the many
were made sinners, even so through the obedience of
the One the many will be made righteous" (Romans
5:19). Adam was the representative of the fallen
humanity. Christ is the head and representative of
all who are members of His family of believers. God
made Christ sin; He makes us righteous. God the
Father sees us "in Christ" and declares us
righteous. Everything that Christ is was credited to
Just as Christ was
treated as a sinner, not because He was a sinner,
but on account of His connection with the human
race, those who are in vital union with Him are
accepted by God as righteous, not because of their
own personal righteousness, but because of their
relationship with Him. Because of their personal
guilt, they dare not approach God with any claim of
Because it is the
work of God, He gets all the glory!
There is no place for
self-righteousness at the foot of the cross. There
are no self-made Christians. All true Christians are
Christ-made. We are made "the righteousness of God
in Him." Sinners must glory in Christ alone because
our trespasses were reckoned to Christ and the
absolute spotless perfect righteousness of Christ is
reckoned to us.
"For by grace you have
been saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result
of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk
in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Christ made the perfect
atonement for your sins.
He has provided a perfect
righteousness for your justification.
God was in Christ
obtaining your reconciliation to a holy God.
All that remains to be
done is to receive by faith that provision God has
If you need help in
becoming a Christian here is A Free Gift for You.
Corinthians 5:21 The Great Exchange