n May, I started a series of posts on 2 Corinthians 5:21. The rigors of my real-life schedule have made it difficult to keep a sense of momentum in that series, but I am determined to finish it.
For those wishing to keep up, here's a list of all the previous posts in the series:
- The Key to the Gospel
- The heart of the gospel?
- The Justice of Calvary
- Back again
- About that series of posts I keep promising . . .
- The Great Exchange (Part 1)
- The Great Exchange (Part 2)
- Back to bidniss
Now we turn to what may be the most difficult expression in our text and consider
Christ Made Sin
"Christ made sin"?
I wouldn't use such language if Scripture didn't use it: "He [God] hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us." That is a deliberately shocking expression. I hope it jars your mind and offends your sensibilities.
God made Christ to be sin. That's not an easy statement to process, but it is pregnant with meaning. Let's see if we can begin to get a grasp on what it means.
Let's talk about what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that God made Christ to be a sinner. And that's clear by the phrase immediately following, which we have already dealt with. Christ "knew no sin." In other words, he knew no sin by His own experience. He had no personal guilt. He was without any blame or sinful corruption whatsoever.
And Paul isn't suggesting that the character of Christ was changed at the cross. Now and then, you'll hear some careless or misguided individual claim that Christ "became a sinner" on the cross, or that he took on Himself corruption and guilt in such a way that He ceased being righteous and was, in effect, a transgressor like us.
That is not what this means.
I've already quoted Hebrews 7:26, which says that Christ was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." The cross changed nothing of His innocent character. He was not made into a wicked person, nor was He in any way tainted by sin. He died as "a lamb without blemish and without spot." And this expression doesn't mean anything that would change that truth. Those who teach that Christ became "sinful" on the cross have misunderstood how our sins were imputed to Him.
There are others who want to go the opposite direction, and tone down the expression Paul is using. They point out that in the Hebrew language, the same word is used for "sin" and "sin offering." So, they say, maybe Paul was employing a Hebraism. Perhaps the verse ought to be translated this way: "He hath made him to be [a sin offering] for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Now, that might seem to make sense and do away with the offensiveness of the expression. And the statement itself would be true enough: Christ became a sin offering.
But that's not what Paul means here, and you can't sustain that interpretation linguistically, grammatically, or contextually.
So the translation is correct as it stands. "he hath made him to be sin for us." It doesn't mean Christ literally became guilty; and it doesn't mean merely that He became a sin offering.
OK. So what does it mean?
It can mean only one thing: He was made sin by imputation. He was made sin for us, on our behalf, on account of our sin. He became, in a figurative sense and in a judicial sense, the embodiment and the symbol of our wickedness.
The meaning of the expression is explained by the prophecy of Isaiah 53:6: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Our sin, with all its guilt and shame, was imputed to Him, put to His account, reckoned as if it were Hiseven though it was not. Or, to back up a few verses, in the words of Isaiah 53:4: "He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."
What griefs and what sorrows? The punishment for our guilt. Verse 5 makes it explicit: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him."
That's clear, isn't it? He took the burden and the guilt of our sin on Himself without actually becoming sinful. Our sin was imputed to Him, or reckoned to His account, and He paid for it.
There's actually a parallel expression in Galatians 3:13: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."
He was made sin for us. He was made a curse for us.
Again, the language is deliberately powerful. To say He was "made sin" is in some ways even more shocking than saying He was "made a sinner." It means that God treated Him as if He were the very embodiment of everything vile, and contemptible, and base, and eviland He did that "for us."
This verse is impossible to explain adequately without understanding the concept of imputation that lies at the heart of Paul's teaching on justification. Because Scripture repeatedly stresses the utter sinlessness of Christincluding right here in the very verse we are considering. Only if Christ was "made sin" by imputation can the full sense of this text make good sense.
And as we're about to see, Paul is actually describing a double imputation in this verse. In other words, the imputation goes both ways: the believer's guilt imputed to Christ, and Christ's righteousness reckoned to the believer. Paul deliberately makes precisely that parallel, and though some have already quibbled about calling this an "exchange," that is exactly what Paul is saying.
We'll flesh those ideas out a little more in the final posts in this series.
I'm going to try my best to finish before too much more time elapses or the series gets so old no one cares any more. In fact, my goal is to finish the series next week. Please bear with me.
PS: Here's some good news via Justin Taylor's blog. I can't wait to see Piper's reply to NT Wright on justification. Can someone at DGM wrangle me a copy of the manuscript?