"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
his, in Paul's own words, is what it means to "preach Christ." The verse is set in a context where the apostle Paul is describing his own role as an evangelist and ambassador for Christ. This is his one-verse summary of the evangelistic message. It is accompanied by an evangelistic appeal, verse 20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead [as His ambassadors, speaking for Him, making the same appeal He would make if He were here speaking Himself], be ye reconciled to God."
That is the plea of the gospel message. That's the simple truth that ought to be the heart and the focus of everything we teach.
But verse 21 is the key that explains how this reconciliation is possible. In that sense, the principle taught in this passage is the very heart of the gospel. The ramifications of this passage are far-reaching and uniquely rich. It explains for us Christ's relationship to sin, to sinners, and to God the Father. It sheds important light on the meaning and the nature and the extent of Christ's workand the means by which atonement for sin was accomplished.
As is obvious from the comments-thread under yesterday's post, 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a vitally important text for understanding the doctrine of justification by faith and the imputation of righteousness to sinners. In fact, the principles of justification, expiation, imputation, substitution, and reconciliation are all illuminated in some important aspect or another by this text. You could practically do a comprehensive survey of every aspect of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) beginning with this one verse alone.
(Of course, as yesterday's comment-thread illustrates, you have to see the connections between this text and other contexts where Paul is teaching about justification in order to get the proper sense of the doctrine.)
But Christ Himself is the proper focus of the text. At least three vital perspectives of Christ are given to us in this text, and beginning tomorrow, we'll take some time to look at each of them individually.