Jesus Became Sin For Us

Part 4 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

Now we must ask why God is even able to declare people righteous. Many people ask how a loving God can send people to hell. It might be fairer to ask, “How can holy and righteous God let sinners go to heaven?”  The answer lies in the fact that God is first able to declare us righteous because Jesus, his Son, became sin for us.

When Christ died, God, in a spiritual, cosmic transaction, took our sin and imputed it into himself in the person of Jesus.  The word “impute” means to credit, to charge, or to assign to something or someone. Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words defines it as, “To charge to one’s account.” The ESV Bible regularly uses the word “counted” to describe this action of God.

This theme of imputation begins, actually, with Adam. Because of his sin, we have been imputed with sin (the doctrine of “original sin”). Paul says, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). In the same chapter Paul writes that many died through one man’s trespass. (v. 15).  Finally, in verse 18, Paul says that one trespass led to condemnation for all men.

The second kind of imputation in the Bible is that of our sin being imputed to Christ, and the third kind is that of Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (which we’ll discuss in more detail in the next post). In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What we see in this last verse is that Christ didn’t just take on our sin; he was literally “made…to be sin.”

In Galatians, Paul goes even further to say that “Christ redeemed us…by becoming a curse for us” (3:13).  When Jesus died, he didn’t take on a curse, he become one.  In his death, there was a cosmic, legal transaction that occurred so that our sin was imputed to him and, in turn, his righteousness was imputed to us.

Finally, in Isaiah 53, we read a prophecy about our sin being imputed to Jesus (and also his righteousness being credited to us).  Isaiah writes that Christ “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v. 4), “was wounded for our transgressionscrushed for our iniquities” (v. 5), had “the iniquity of us all” laid on him (v. 6), and has borne our “iniquities” (v. 11).  It’s plain that Christ had to take our sin upon his soul as if it were his very own if we were to be declared righteous before God.

To be continued.

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Update: Modified as of 3/12/10.  In addition to the change, here’s a clarification:

  • Why doesn’t Jesus still retain our sin?  In other words, how can he be in God’s presence with our sin on him? Jesus did take on our sin.  And the Father did regard him as sin, even though he didn’t deserve it.  The Father did this so that all who might put their faith in Jesus might be saved.  But Christ does not still have our sin on/in him like he did when he died on the cross.  When Christ rose from the grave, his sacrificial work was finished (Heb. 1:3-4).  These verses in Hebrews tell us that Christ sat down at the right hand of the Father.  Jesus’ resurrection showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is the conquerer of sin and death, not the other way around.  Because Jesus rose from the grave as victorious Lord, Savior, and King, the Father no longer regards him as sin (as he did on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross).  The resurrection was Jesus’ vindicating act to show that he is Lord of life, Defeater of death, and indeed God incarnate.

Comments (



  1. Phil Stilwell

    P1: When Christ died, God literally took our sin and imputed it into himself in the person of Jesus.
    P2: This repositioning of our sin on Christ is what makes us righteous.
    P3: Only if someone is righteous can they enter god’s presence.
    P4: Humans can enter god’s presence since our sins are now on Christ.
    P5: Christ cannot enter god’s presence since he bears our sin.
    P6: Christ has entered god’s presence.
    Conclusion: Someone is either confused or lying.


    1. clement

      God’s time frame is an eternal time frame. The sins of all mankind was punished once and for all by Jesus on the cross. Unmerited favour, that’s grace.


      1. Phil Stilwell

        That’s your imagination.

        Jesus took on our sins. We now, the myth goes, can enter heaven because our sins, which warranted eternal damnation, were placed on Jesus. Read you bible. But Jesus is not being eternally tortured as our sins require. Someone blundered on the math. 3 days dead does not equal eternity, and especially in an eternal time frame. 3 days is 3 days. Eternity is eternity. There is no way to reconcile the two. Who did Jesus, in turn, place the sins he took from us on? There he sits in heaven, the myth says, chatting up Jehovah, pretending he paid the price for sin. Hilarious. Find a god who can do math.


  2. james

    You are leaving out some serious theological matter in (and in between) these propositions, and completely ignoring the totality of the doctrine of justification by grace and faith.


    1. Phil Stilwell

      Then it should be no problem for you to create a coherent syllogism that explains how the substitutionary death of Jesus works.


  3. james


    First of all, let me address the problems in your argument. Because if you cannot see the problems with your propositions, you won’t work with what I’ll tell you (which I’m sure you’ve already heard–I’m just guessing).

    P1: When I say that God “literally” took our sin and put in on Christ, I don’t mean that Jesus became a sinner. This would be totally against everything Scripture teaches. Perhaps I should have said “cosmically” or “mysteriously.” So thanks for pointing that out. Instead God made Jesus to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21), meaning that God regarded or treated Jesus as “sin” even though he never sinned (Heb. 4:15-16). How as Christ regarded as sin? He was brutally beaten and unfairly executed on a cross. We deserved this. This is a cosmic and mysterious thing as to how it happened [i.e. imputed sin to Christ and imputed righteousness to us], but Jesus in no way was literally a sinful person.

    P4: Just because our sin was imputed to Christ does not mean that our sins are still “now on Christ.” Christ rose from the grave victoriously. He finished his work and sat down at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3-4). This passage from Hebrews 1 is integral for us to understand. Christ IS in the presence of God now because he rose from the grave. Sin didn’t conquer him with death–he conquered it! The very fact that Christ is in the presence of God now shows that God does not regard him as sin any longer.

    P5: Again, Christ no longer “bears” our sin as he did that Good Friday on the cross. He still forgives, and bears it in the sense that he is the only one who can take away sin. But Christ, in no way, is still being regarded by the Father as “sin” like he was when he died on the cross.

    Thoughts on that?

    Thanks for stopping by.


  4. james

    Just to be clear, I updated this post and changed the first sentence of the second paragraph to: “When Christ died, God, in a spiritual, cosmic transaction, took our sin and imputed it into himself in the person of Jesus.”

    I realize this changes from literally to spiritually/cosmically — and that’s a big deal — but I don’t want to give the impression that Jesus sinned. There wasn’t one sinful bone in his body during his entire life on earth. Again, to reiterate, the whole transaction that went on (imputation of our sin to Jesus and his righteousness to us) is spiritual. A way to show this truth is in the life of a Christian. We get Christ’s righteousness, but we are not completely righteous, are we? Practically speaking, we have a LONG way to go.


  5. Phil Stilwell

    You’ll have to leave the common-sensical notions about justice to make sense about biblical redemption. But it appears that you have already done that as shown in your statement…

    “This is a cosmic and mysterious thing as to how it happened [i.e. imputed sin to Christ and imputed righteousness to us], but Jesus in no way was literally a sinful person.”

    However, if a human judge were to suggest he was ‘just’ after having his own son become a ‘substitute’ for a jay-walker ‘deserving’ of the electric chair and then shocking that son for a mere 3 seconds, no one would consider such a judge ‘just’. It is very fortunate that your Judge Jehovah is mysterious or he might be considered unjust. Or is this mysteriousness merely a convenient way to divert attention away from the absurdity of it all?

    Check out for more such absurdities.


  6. james

    God did not just say, “Okay, you are all off the hook. No wrath for you sinners.” THAT would be unjust. Instead, he bruised and killed his own Son, his own Flesh, so that we might not have to bear that punishment in eternity. That is just. And Christ rose from the dead to prove that no more sin is “on” him (as you put it).


    1. Phil Stilwell

      You said “God did not just say, ‘Okay, you are all off the hook. No wrath for you sinners.’ THAT would be unjust.”

      No. That would have been the kind of forgiveness he commands of us; bloodless and unconditional.

      But lets go on to assume your inconsistent god that can’t forgive as he commands us to forgive. If we are to bear “punishment in eternity”, then to allow his son to spend less than eternity is unjust.

      If a human judge were to suggest he was ‘just’ after having his own son become a ’substitute’ for a jay-walker ‘deserving’ of the electric chair and then shocking that son for a mere 3 seconds, no one would consider such a judge ‘just’.

      You can say you chose to worship an absurd god and claim “his logic” transcends our own. But that is really your only option here.

      Remember, we are talking about a god who claims to “love” us, then becomes so angry over a lie that he deems it worthy of eternal torment. That is who your god is. You’ll have to completely redefine “love”, “justice” and “mercy” to mean approximately their opposites to make your doctrine work. But you won’t be able to do so honestly.

      Come to reason. The cognitive torture from the absurdities of faith no one deserves. And you seem intelligent enough to know absurdities when you see them. Life on this side of god-belief is so much better. Honestly.


  7. james

    Phil, I just want to add one more thing, and then I’ll stop. I can see that you *really* value reason over “faith,” but I think this is the most reasonable thing in the world. Here’s why:

    In our real lives, when a wrong is done to us, there are two options. 1) You either punish the other person for their wrong, or 2) You overlook the wrong, bear it yourself and forgive them.

    When forgiveness happens, someone always gets hurt. Jesus forgives those who believe and he took the wrath, punishment, and hurt for us that we deserved.


    1. Phil Stilwell

      We do not deserve hell. This is a perversion of any coherent notion of justice.

      And you provide a clear description of forgiveness that Jehovah does not provide. Is your forgiveness of other people conditional on whether or not they accept it? Do you offer someone forgiveness, and when they refuse to accept it, do you kill them? This is a perversion of any coherent notion of forgiveness.

      And to add absurdity upon absurdity, you have this god claiming to love those he deems worthy of hell when the violation may be a single lie, and when accepting his forgiveness is dependent upon hearing about his forgiveness which is not possible in many parts of the world. This is a perversion any coherent notion of love.

      Faith makes you feel good. I remember. But it is incoherent.


  8. Gene

    Hello Phil…just reading the back and forth between you and James…and would like to ask if you would share with me your personal beliefs about Jesus and Christianity…


    1. Phil Stilwell

      Sorry I saw this late, Gene.
      My beliefs about Jesus are nearly the same as when I wrote “reasons for my deconversion” a few years ago. You can find this with a google search. Cheers.


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