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.

What Does Justification Do? (Part 2)

Part 3 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

Justification declares us righteous

God not only legally takes away our sin, but he simultaneously declares us righteous. It was as if we would be neutral when God forgave us of our sin. God doesn’t leave us “in neutral,” as it were. Instead, he pronounces us righteous, blameless, and innocent before him. We must remember that “justification” is a legal term and this isn’t something that God makes us, that is, he doesn’t make us perfect in our day-to-day lives. God is a judge, and we can imagine him presiding over a bench in a courtroom, making his judgment and declaring over me, the very sinful defendant, “I pronounce you not guilty—righteous, blameless, perfect in my eyes.”

Romans 8:31-34 tells us that it’s God’s prerogative to justify or condemn:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

This shows us plainly that it is God alone who pronounced the judgment of “blameless” in his sight. Right before this, Paul tells us what “these things” are. Paul puts it this way: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (v. 30). God predestined (meaning before time began) to justify us, that is, he called certain people to himself so that they might be righteous in his sight. Everyone who is called by God in their heart will be justified. Legally speaking, from God’s perspective, they always have been because they have been predestined for it.

At the beginning of Romans 8, justification looks like this, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). No one can bring a condemning conviction against God’s people because they are indeed righteous! God has legally pronounced them righteous and nothing can change that.

Finally, no one can bring a charge against God. God is the one who does whatever he wants (cf. Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:19-24). Indeed, Paul says, “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged” (Rom. 3:4). God is justified in his justifying of sinners because of what Jesus has done (which we’ll get to in a bit). In whatever God says or does, he is always justified.

To be continued.


What is Justification?

Series Index

  1. What is Justification?
  2. What Does Justification Do? (Part 1)
  3. What Does Justification Do? (Part 2)
  4. Jesus Became Sin For Us
  5. Christ’s Imputed Righteousness
  6. Justification by Grace
  7. Justification by Faith
  8. Does James Contradict Paul?

Part 1 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther and others recaptured the beauty and glory of the doctrine of justification.  We contribute absolutely nothing to this wonderful doctrine, but gain everything from it. Over the next several days, we’ll look at what justification is, what it does, how it happens, and how we receive it.

First of all, why do we need to understand the significance and meaning of this doctrine? Wayne Grudem said:

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel…Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works.

Jonathan Edwards defined justification this way: “A person is said to be justified when he is approved of God as free from the guilt of sin and its deserved punishment; and as having that righteousness belonging to him that entitles to the reward of life.”

J.I. Packer said that it is “a judicial act of God pardoning sinners (wicked and ungodly persons, Rom. 4:5; 3:9-24), accepting them as just, and so putting permanently right their previously estranged relationship with himself. Finally,Grudem says, “Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in His sight.”

In short, justification is the legal act of God the Father in which he 1) forgives our sins and 2) declares that we are righteous before him.  According to this definition and what we will see in Scripture, we know that justification is something that is declared about a person, not something that is done to a person. In regard to this, John Murray wrote,

Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is a judgment of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes an inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does — he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.

To be continued.


What Justification by Faith Says About God

I’ve been studying justification by faith for the past couple weeks.  I’m sure there are many other things, but as I studied Galatians 2 and 3, I thought of ten things that this doctrine says about God:

  1. He wants all the glory in the universe for himself.
  2. He wants man to be saved by faith so that they have no reason for boasting.
  3. He wants man to praise him for his promise and for his faithfulness in keeping it.
  4. He is sovereign and just in that he declares some righteous and some unrighteous.
  5. He is good in providing ill-deserving sinners any way to be holy before him.
  6. He has a perfect plan that is totally counter-intuitive to anything humans would think up.
  7. He has a reason for the law, even though some would say it contradicts his promises.
  8. He takes initiative in that he came to become a curse himself so that people might be redeemed.
  9. He desires that all nations come to worship him, not just one nation, in order that they might be a new humanity.
  10. He desires that his Son be the centerpiece of this new humanity.

Any others?


Jesus Didn’t Die for Nothing

In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

If Jesus didn’t exchange our sin for his righteousness (as 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us he did), then why did he die?  Some would say to be an example of the ultimate act of love.  This is unconvincing and Jesus didn’t really leave us this option, though.  If that is so, then Jesus’ so-called “act of love” really didn’t accomplish anything. When someone makes a sacrifice, it is done so that someone or something else does not need to be sacrificed.

In other words, Jesus is not just an example for us, but our substitute Savior.  He lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we deserved to die. If we could be declared righteous (i.e. justified) without his substitutionary death, then Jesus really lived a tragic life and died an even more tragic death.  Praise God this isn’t the case.

“Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:10, 13).