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“Made the Righteousness of God in Him”
2 Corinthians 5:21
The first word translated “made” in 2 Corinthians 5:21 as it relates to Christ being made sin is not a legal term, as some imagine, but a word that carries the idea of “create.” It is in the past tense and implies that he who was made sin for us was personally involved in the work. God the Father, by one great, mysterious act, gathered together all the sins of all his elect throughout all the ages of time, and caused his darling Son to be sin for us.
But when Paul tells us that we are “made the righteousness of God in him,” another word is used for “made.” When he speaks of us being “made the righteousness of God in” Christ, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use another word altogether. The word translated “made” in the second part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a present tense, passive verb, implying total passiveness on our part, and means “continually cause to become.” Paul is telling us that those for whom Christ was made sin God continually causes to become the righteousness of God in him without us doing a thing.
Our great, all-wise, eternally gracious God made us righteous before the world was in Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, in his sovereign, eternal purpose of grace (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 1). If we were blessed of God with all spiritual blessings before the world began and accepted in the Beloved, it was not as unrighteous, but as the righteousness of God in Christ.
We were made to become the righteousness of God judicially, in a legal sense, when the Lord Jesus died as our Substitute under the wrath of God, satisfying divine justice for us. When he had put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, he obtained eternal redemption for us, and we were made to become the righteousness of God in him by divine justice in justification (Romans 4:25; 5:12, 17-21).
But this matter of being made the righteousness of God in Christ, while it is a work with which we have no involvement, is not just a matter of law, any more than Christ’s being made sin was just a matter of law. It is not something that takes place altogether outside our experience, any more than Christ being made sin was outside his experience.
Sinners are made the righteousness of God in Christ experimentally in the new birth, when we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). That holy thing in us that is born of God, that John tells us cannot sin, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). We experience this blessed thing (being made the righteousness of God) in the inmost depths of our souls, in the constant assurance of our access to, acceptance with, and the forgiveness of our sins by our God (1 John 1:7-2:2).
We are in Christ, in whom alone God is well pleased. That means he is well pleased with us in him (Matthew 17:5). Our sacrifices are accepted of God as a sweet-smelling savor in Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Our sins are never imputed to us, but perpetually forgiven, because we are one with him who was once made sin for us, in whom we are perpetually made to become the righteousness of God.
Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, every sinner who trusts him is made to become the righteousness of God in him absolutely (2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:12). Discerning the Lord’s body, that is to say, knowing our need of a Substitute and knowing the Substitute himself, trusting his finished work and trusting him, sinners like you and me are worthy to enter his church, worthy to call upon his name, worthy to receive the Lord’s Table, and worthy to enter into and possess forever his glory!
We shall be made to become the righteousness of God everlastingly in the last day in resurrection glory. We shall be raised in righteousness. We shall be declared righteous according to the record book of heaven at the Day of Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15; Jeremiah 50:20). We shall be declared righteous to wondering worlds to the glory of our God forever (Ephesians 2:7). Then we shall forever begin to enjoy, in such experimental reality as words cannot describe, the blessedness of being made to become the righteousness of God in Christ (Revelation 21:2-5; 22:1-6).