2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
I found this verse to have an interesting statement of doctrine, but I do not like how it has been rendered (translated) here in the New International Version (NIV). So, I thought that I might look at all other English translations; and so, I found some that I think better express what I believe Paul was asserting here. Many of the translations mirrored the NIV in grammar and format, but I liked these for my commentary:
New Living Translation
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
New Matthew Bible
For he has made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that we, by means of him, should be that righteousness which is accepted before God.
Tree of Live Version
He made the One who knew no sin to become a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
What I struggled with in the more widely known translations (i.e. KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, RSV, AMP, etc.) is this language: He (meaning Jesus) became sin or that God made Him to be sin. I just have a hard time conceiving that possibility in my mind. So I was glad to see additional translations that confirmed what I believed Paul meant: the concept of Jesus “becoming a sin offering”. This is highly consistent with the surrounding context of “reconciliation with God” and with the inspired writings of the Apostle John. Let’s look at the additional context first:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made Him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
And this language is consistent with the doctrinal material that Paul shared in the Book of Romans:
Romans 3:20-26 (NIV)
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)
8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.
These passages explain in greater detail what the Apostle John affirmed:
1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)
9 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
While John focuses on the love of God for us … and its “manifestation” through sending His Son to become an eternal sin offering so that we might have eternal life; Paul goes the extra step to explain HOW the love and grace of God effectually accomplished our justification through Christ Jesus. Paul preaches an absolute home-run sermon which you will find in Acts 13:13-42. I encourage you to read the entire passage, but I want to focus on his conclusion:
38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through Him, everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’”
Although Paul is quoting Habakkuk 1:5 in Verse 41, he uses its prophetic application of warning for those who scoff, dispute, discredit, and do not believe the message being declared to them. He was urging them to not reject the Gospel … or its proclamation of freedom from darkness … or its declaration of hope and reconciliation with God. Yet, the religious and self-righteous could not understand or accept this message of love and grace or the justification afforded us through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus through His blood shed on a cross. Paul explains the reason for this spiritual tension and conflict produced in people when the Gospel is preached to them:
2 Corinthians 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (NIV)
1Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” (Genesis 1:3) made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
It is not that the Gospel is unclear, it is that unbelievers are blinded by Satan. There is a veil of darkness that covers their hearts so that the light and the liberty of the Gospel cannot be discerned. The Apostle John stated, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (Cf. John 3:19-21) And Paul informs us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
So we need to be aware of this struggle. There is spiritual warfare being fought on the battlefields of our minds. And this is why truth is so important! This is why we are sanctified (set apart unto God) by the truth … which is found in Jesus, the Word of God. (Cf. John 17:17) As the Psalmist wrote: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105) I pray we will all take time to read and study the truth found in God’s word, and to share its truth and light with others. I think that is the most important thing we can be doing right now….
I hope this has been a helpful discussion. Everyone please be safe out there! The impact of this pandemic is far from over….