Our great hope

Some people consider John 3:16 to be one of the most important verses that offer hope, peace and comfort in the bible but I think it is worthwhile to consider 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is a verse that is loaded with encouragement and engagement. In today’s very volatile day it is a verse that lifts the head, steadies the heart and strengthens resolve.

This message speaks of grace and transformation. We, who were once separated from God by sin, are not just forgiven but changed into something wonderful – ‘the righteousness of God’. This change comes through Christ’s selfless act on the cross, offering us hope in a world full of sin.

Importance in Today’s Troubled Society – absolutes
Society today, often confused by changing moral values and doubt, can feel lost and swamped in hopelessness. In such postmodern times, this verse stands out as challenge, but also as a ray of hope. It talks about absolute truth, absolute sin, and absolute redemption. The power of God’s love shown through Christ offers a way out of the hopelessness and problems our society faces. Those problems are not going to get easier, but as we grasp some of the truth in 2 Cor 5:21 we will be better placed to respond in faith rather than fear to the circumstances we face.

In difficult times within the church, this verse also encourages unity through Christ’s selfless love and righteousness. Amid disagreements and increasing secular influences imposing themselves, it reminds us to focus on our main identity as those made righteous through Christ. It speaks of profound mystery, to which Luther responds, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours.”

Before we look at this verse it is worth mentioning Isaiah 53:6 where Isaiah urges us to recognise, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  For us, this speaks of Christ taking on our sins, aligning with the role he plays in our verse.  The apostle Paul, immersed in the OT scripture may have considered this in the background of his musings as he wrote the epistle.

The overture of this verse prompts wonder and worship, but it also is missional – we are encouraged to accept God’s transformative love through faith in Christ and to share this loving grace with others. In a society filled with conflict and negativity, our changed lives can be examples of God’s redeeming love. That change in our lives is reflected by conviction about what God has done in, for and with us. John Stott describes it perfectly, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.”

Let’s look at the scripture in full and then see what the encouragement is

  1. For our sake“: The Greek phrase used here literally has the meaning ‘on behalf of us.’ This phrase sets the stage for the rest of the verse by immediately emphasising God’s sacrificial love for us. The term ‘hyper,’ meaning ‘for’ or ‘in favour of,’ shows that God’s actions, which we’ll talk about, are carried out for our good. God is not ambiguous about such matters, when things are done for our good, He does with extravagant provision and kindness.
  2. He made“: The verb  implies an active, deliberate action by God. In its usage here, it shows that the Father intentionally and actively ordained the process, manifesting His supreme authority and control over the redemption plan.
  3. Him to be sin“: The phrase ‘hamartian epoiēsen’ is a pivotal part of the verse, wherein the absolute sinless Christ is said to be ‘made’ sin.The word ‘hamartian,’ derived from ‘hamartia,’ doesn’t mean that Christ became sinful or bad. Rather, it means that Christ acted as a sin offering, carrying the burden of humanity’s wrongdoings. This is similar to the idea in Isaiah 53:10 where He was treated as if He were the embodiment of ‘sin.’ This is a complex concept, but in this context, ‘sin’ might be a deliberate figure of speech where a thing’s name (sin) is used to represent something related to it (the guilt and penalty of sin). It can feel like running through honey at this point, but hang on, it’s worth it!
  4. Who knew no sin“: The phrase ‘mē gnonta hamartian’ speaks to the sinless nature of Christ. The Greek verb ‘ginōskō,’ usually translated as ‘know,’ indicates an experiential (full)knowledge. Thus, Christ, ‘who knew no (zero) sin,’ had never experienced sin personally, underlining His absolute holiness. Christ was (and is) unique, blameless, sinless and guiltless.
  5. So that“: Now we get to the awesome news! The term indicates why God made Christ to be sin. It shows the divine reason, the divine agenda and purpose behind this amazing act of God.
  6. “In him”: The Greek word ‘en,’ meaning ‘in,’ is key here. It implies being ‘in Christ’ or ‘connected with Christ.’ It shows the believer’s place within Christ, which is vital to understand God’s divine plan. When Paul talks about ‘adoption,’ it’s a strong example of being so deeply connected with Christ that it’s like being adopted, becoming a close part of God’s family, to the point that we even share in God’s inheritance.
  7. We might become“: The Greek word used here for ‘become,’ suggests a possibility or potential for change. This change means that believers undergo a consequential metamorphous  transformation into something new. When we look at the phrase, ‘that in him we might become the righteousness of God,’ it is clear that it implies a change of state.
  8. The righteousness of God“: This means that it’s not simply about being seen or called righteous, but truly becoming as righteous as God through Christ’s teachings. It’s not just about being righteous in a way that God would approve of, but being righteous in the same way God is. This level of righteousness is beyond human comprehension and can only be achieved through Christ’s selfless sacrifice.

That might have been tough to get through, and I think you may have quickly glanced through it. If that’s the case, I urge you to read it one more time before moving on! Now for the positive part – this verse is definitely worth focusing on and pondering often.

Jesus, through His death on the cross, stood in for us and took the punishment for our sin. Our sins were passed on to Him, and His righteousness was given to us. When God says that those who trust in Jesus are righteous, even though they’ve done wrong, it is because He has already started a process where believers grow to be more like Jesus, becoming pure with God’s help; and He will see it through to completion.

It is a packed verse and my paraphrase of it might bring some encouragement to you:

Out of a boundless love that defies human comprehension, God initiated a grand scheme. He designated His only Son, absolutely untainted by sin, to stand on the precipice of our wrongdoing. This flawless One, who had never been acquainted with sin’s insidious touch, was assigned to shoulder our vast multitude of transgressions.

This was no random act; it was a deliberate plan, mapped out in divine wisdom and mercy. The purpose? That we, closely intertwined with the immaculate Christ, might experience an incredible metamorphosis.

This was not about merely mending our fractured souls; it was about transforming us into something we could never achieve by ourselves. Miraculously, we are reshaped to embody the very righteousness that belongs to God, reflecting His divine nature in a world desperately in need of such grace.

In short, 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a strong verse that offers hope in difficult times. It captures the whole message of the Gospel – Christ took on our sins so that we could become righteous in God’s eyes. This simple statement is a deep secret that can change lives. We are more than victors, made righteous through Christ.

JonThis is the Gospel, the good news that can change the world, one person at a time. With faith, love, and humility, let’s carry this message forward, embodying Christ’s life-changing love in our lives and sharing it with others.