“That We Might be 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, 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. It means, “by one act gather together and cause to be.” Paul is telling us that 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 he 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 him,” the word Paul uses for “made” is another word altogether. It is a passive verb, implying total passiveness on our part and means “cause to become.” Paul is telling us that those for whom Christ was made sin God has caused to become the righteousness of God in him without them doing a thing.


          Be sure you understand what the Holy Spirit here teaches us. Christ being made sin for us, was made exactly what we are – Sin! He was made sin for us that we might be made exactly what he is — Righteousness, the very righteousness of God. He was not made less than we are; and we are not made less than he is. The very sinfulness that we were, Christ was made before God; and the very righteousness that he is we are made before God. This is absolute substitution. The Lord Jesus Christ took our persons and condition, and stood in our stead before God. We take his person and condition, and stand in his stead before God. What the Lord God beholds Christ to be, that he beholds his members to be. — The very righteousness of God!


Proper Esteem


If we could really learn this, in a practical way, it would forever put an end to all bickering, strife, and division among God’s saints. Read Philippians 2:1-3.


“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”


          If we look upon one another as believers, as sinners saved by grace, in union with Christ, as one with him we must never look upon our brothers and sisters in Christ, judging them in the light of what we see manifest by their actions, but in light of what they are in Christ, the righteousness of God. That will make us kind and gracious to one another, each esteeming the other better than himself.


          I know something of what I am by nature — sin, nothing but sin. I know a little bit about the evil of my own heart, the vileness of my thoughts, the corruption of my motives! Bro. Tim James, who pastors our friends in Cherokee, NC, and I grew up on the same streets. I know him too, but not like I did when we were both boys on the Southside streets of Winston-Salem. Now I know him in Christ; and I am not to know him any other way. Since Christ died for him and rose again, I know him “no more after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:14-16). Every time I look at him, think about him, pray for him, or do anything regarding him, I ought to see and think of nothing but Christ. That dear friend is Christ, the very righteousness of God! If God the Holy Spirit will teach me, give me grace, and sweetly force me so to esteem him, I’m going to have a real tough time fighting with him, no matter what he says or does. Christ himself is not more righteous than that man is in Christ.


Right Reckoning


But that is not the end of the story. God the Holy Spirit tells me that I am to think of myself that way, too. In spite of all that I know myself to be by nature, even when the corruptions of my heart are most vilely manifest, I am to look upon myself as one with Christ, completely righteous before God. Yes…


“With His spotless garments on

I’m holy as the Holy One!”


          Do you trust Christ? Do you believe on the Son of God? Is his blood your only atonement for sin? Is his righteousness your only righteousness before God? Is your only hope of life eternal the Son of God and God’s boundless grace flowing freely to your soul through him? If so, God reckons you to be the righteousness of God in him, and tells you that you are to reckon yourself the righteousness of God in him, really, truly, and absolutely. — “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That is what we have confessed in our baptism, and that is how we are to live by faith before him (Rom. 6:1-11).


          The Lord God would have all who are his always to reckon themselves in Christ, one with Christ, and the righteousness of God in Christ. I cannot tell you how much I want you who trust the Son of God to see and live in the sweet experience of this blessed gospel revelation. — Until the Lord God Almighty finds a sin in his darling Son, a sin for which to crucify him again, he will not find one in you (Rom. 8:33-34, 38-39). If you trust Christ, the God of Glory who made his dear Son to be sin for you has made you the very righteousness of God in him! And he would have you to reckon it so.


          Perhaps you are thinking, “Bro. Don, I’d give anything to know that what you have said is true. But, surely we cannot carry those words ‘made the righteousness of God in him,’ that far. Does the Word of God really warrant such full, confident assurance of absolute righteousness before God?”


          I’m glad you asked. I want you to see and see clearly that what I am preaching to you is precisely the doctrine of this Book. — In Christ we have, no, we are the righteousness of God. Our God has made us to become the righteousness of God in his Son. And that righteousness is a righteousness that can never be soiled, tainted, or corrupted in any way, much less lost. Let me show you.




Read Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Jeremiah 33:15-16. In both places Jeremiah is describing for us this blessed gospel day in which the Branch of Righteousness has grown up unto David and his seed. That Branch is Christ. And that David is Christ our King. Our David is now seated on his throne in glory, having grown up righteousness, by bringing in everlasting righteousness. He now executes judgment and justice throughout the earth in the salvation of his people by the gospel. That is what the Lord our God declares in these two passages.


(Jeremiah 23:5)  “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”


(Jeremiah 33:15)  “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.”


(Jeremiah 23:6)  “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”


(Jeremiah 33:16)  “In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness.”


          That is not a mistranslation. Every word is translated with exact accuracy. This is what the Lord God tells us about the work of Christ in this day of grace in which we live. — Judah, the tribe of God’s choice, shall be saved. — Israel, God’s holy nation, his chosen generation, his royal priesthood, shall dwell safely. — And this is the name whereby that Righteous Branch our King shall be called, Jehovah-tsidkenu,The Lord Our Righteousness.” — And this is the name wherewith every saved sinner shall be called — Jehovah-tsidkenu! “The Lord Our Righteousness.”


Our Righteousness


Read 2nd Corinthians 5:21 again. — “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The righteousness which the Lord God makes redeemed sinners to become, the righteousness by which we are accepted and with which we are made worthy of heavenly glory (Col. 1:12) is always called “the righteousness of God.” It is the work of Christ alone. It is that righteousness of which all men by nature are ignorant. And the proof of their ignorance is that they go about to establish their own righteousness (Rom. 9:33-10:4).


          According to the Book of God, it is the life obedience of Christ that constitutes that righteousness with which we are clothed and made to become before God. His death washed away our sins, and his life covers us from head to foot. His death was the sacrifice to God, and his life is the gift to man, by which all God’s elect have satisfied the demands of the law.


          Only in this way is it possible for the law to be honored and our souls accepted by God. Many who appear to be perfectly clear about the merits of Christ’s death, do not seem to understand the merits of his life. Remember, from the moment that our blessed Savior broke his mother’s womb until the hour that he ascended up on high, he was at work for his people. From the moment that he was seen in Mary’s arms, until the moment that he was in the arms of death when “he bowed his head and gave up the ghost,” he was performing the work of our salvation.


          The Lord Jesus Christ completed the work of his obedience in his life, and said to his Father, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). Then he finished the work of his atonement in his death. And, knowing that all things were accomplished, he cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Throughout his earthly life, the Savior was spinning the fabric of that royal, priestly garment in which we are robed, and in his death he dipped that garment in his blood. In his life he was gathering precious gold, and in his death he hammered it out to make for us a garment of wrought gold. We have as much to be thankful for in the life of Christ as we do in his death. In his life, Christ Jesus rendered perfect obedience to the law as our Substitute. And in his death, he satisfied the claims of the law as our Substitute. Therefore, the prophet of God declares of Christ, “This is the name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness,” and of us, “This is the name whereby she shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness.”


          That is the message that is set before us in 2nd Corinthians 5:21. ― The Lord Jesus Christ is our only righteousness, and it is our joy to confess that he is. — “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).




How are sinners made to become the righteousness of God in Christ? I appeal to the Word of God alone for the answer to that question. The opinions of men are totally irrelevant. What does the Book say? Nothing else matters.


          When Christ was made sin, that was a one time, once and for all act accomplished in the past, a work in which he was personally involved. But when the Holy Spirit speaks of us being “made the righteousness of God in him,” the word he uses, I remind you, for “made” is another word altogether. It is a present tense, passive verb, implying total passiveness on our part and means “cause to become.” He is telling us that those for whom Christ was made sin God has caused to become the righteousness of God in him without them doing a thing. Let me show you how he has done it and is doing it.




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 (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Tim. 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 imputation in justification (Rom. 4:25; 5:12, 17-21).




But this matter of being made the righteousness of God in Christ, while it is something with which we have no involvement, it 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 Pet. 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” (Col. 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 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 (Matt. 17:5). Our sacrifices are accepted of God as a sweet-smelling savor in Christ (1 Pet. 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 Cor. 5:17; Col. 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 (Rev. 20:11-15; Jer. 50:20). We shall be declared righteous to wondering worlds to the glory of our God forever (Eph. 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 (Rev. 21:2-5; 22:1-6).


          I am lost in wonder. All this, all that Christ has as the God-man my Mediator, we have in him. All that he is, we are in him. All that he enjoys, soon, I shall enjoy forever in him, because…


“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).


Everything with the Son


I recently read a story (whether true or not, I do not know) that well illustrates the message of Holy Scripture. Here it is…


“An art collector had in his collection works by some of the greatest painters of the world — Rembrandt, Van Gogh, de Vinci, Picasso, etc. But his favorite portrait was one of his own son, who had died in battle. A fellow solder had painted a rather inept portrait of the son and given it to the broken-hearted father, and though the painting was ‘amateurish,’ it was deeply cherished by the father and had hung alongside the works of the legendary artists of history. When the collector neared the end of life, he wrote out his will and specified that his art collection be put up for sale .at an Auction.


At the Auction, it had been specified that the portrait of the collector’s son should be featured first. But the bidders were not interested in the portrait, and there was considerable grumbling in the crowd, anxious for a chance to buy the famous works.


The Auctioneer could hardly rouse a bid for the portrait of the son; but finally, after some minutes of the usual ‘auctioneering sing-song,’ a bid of $10.00 was meekly offered. No further offer could be raised by the Auctioneer’s efforts, so without a single competing bid, the portrait was sold for $10.00.


Then the Auctioneer said, ‘According to the Will, the Auction is now closed.’ You can imagine the consternation that went over the would-be bidders, and the outburst of inquiries as to what was going on. ‘What about all these great works of art?” a would-be purchaser asked in a loud voice over the noisy, disappointed crowd.


The Auctioneer explained, ‘According to the Will of the deceased, the entire collection goes with the portrait of the son; whoever purchased the portrait of the son also becomes the owner of the remainder of the collection. Everything goes with the son!’”


So it is in all things holy, heavenly, spiritual and eternal. Everything goes with the Son! — “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)