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For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   2 Corinthians 5:21

It’s easy to lose heart.  There are the difficulties of life in the body, the feeling that what you do may not have any lasting significance or value, the harsh judgments other people may make about you, the disappointments that come in the plan you had for your life, the frustrations you may have with what you are in the flesh, and the sheer weight of evil in this lost and rebellious world.

What has been so striking to me in this series is to see again how directly God speaks to the real issues of our lives.  Thinking about these things has impressed on me again that these are exactly the things that cause us to lose heart!  We have seen in this series how God speaks to each of them in this marvelous chapter of his Word.

Today, we come to a way of losing heart that is familiar to every person who really wants to live a godly life.  If the Holy Spirit lives in you, if you have come to love God, if you have a genuine desire that God has planted in you to live a holy and godly life, you will often find that your own sins cause you to lose heart.

Awareness of Sin Is Heightened in Godly People

You might expect that people who are far from God would have a heightened awareness of their own sin, but exactly the opposite is true.  It is those who are pursuing a godly life who have a heightened awareness of their own sin.  Here are three reasons why:

1. The work of the Holy Spirit

He will convict the world concerning sin (John 16:8).

The Holy Spirit convinces of sin.  He comes into our lives like a great light.  Dirt shows up when the light is turned on.  If you go into a dark theater, it’s hard to tell whether or not the place is clean.  But when you turn on a bright light, things that were hidden in the dark can be seen clearly.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to shine the light into dark corners of your life, and this is evidence of the work of God.  His work is never ultimately to condemn us, but to shine the light on Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away our sin.

The Spirit of truth will bring you back to the great truth of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  That is why it is so important that what we are looking at today gets fixed in our minds and settled in our hearts.

2. The strategy of the enemy

The accuser of our brothers(Rev. 12:10).

Satan is the accuser of Christian brothers and sisters.  He works against the Christian by bringing to mind your sins and failures in an attempt to make you lose heart.  This is a strategy that Satan only uses with believers.  It would be completely against his interest to do this with anyone else.

His main strategy with sinners is to keep them in the dark about their own sin, and keep them in denial, to make them think that their sin is no issue now, or for eternity.  But when a person is in Christ, the enemy brings accusation to the mind and heart of that person.

One way that he does this is to raise the memory of past sins.  You will say, “That was a long time ago,” but back it will come into your mind, and you need to know how to deal with the accusations of your enemy, and how to get your heart at rest again in the presence of God so that you do not lose heart.

3. The godly impulse of the new heart

Whenever our heart condemns us (1 John 3:20).

John writes to Christian believers and he says, “Whenever our heart condemns us.”  He does not say, “if ever,” as if it would only be an occasional and unlikely thing.  He says, “whenever” and here’s the reason why: A Christian has a new heart.

The new heart has a godly impulse.  It is sensitive to sin, hates its presence, discerns its subtlety, and longs for the day when it will be gone completely.  Christian, your own heart will condemn you, and you need to know how to answer your own heart.

The person who is far from God usually has very little awareness of sin.  He thinks of himself as a good person, and he would find it difficult to name any sins that are actually his.  He wonders why we would have a sermon about sin.  He isn’t concerned about sin, and Satan never accuses him, because he wants him to remain asleep to those realities.

If a sense of your own sins is not an issue in your life, you may be farther from God than you think, and you should be concerned about the state of your own soul.

So I speak today to every person who wants to live a godly life, knowing that this is an issue for you.  You are sensitive to your own sins.  You say to yourself, “Here I am a Christian.  How can it be that these thoughts are in me?  Why have I not made more progress?  Why did I speak with that sharp tongue?  Why am I so reluctant to pray, when I have been a Christian all these years, and I know how important this is?”  And sometimes you lose heart.

Look with me at these marvelous words in 2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

One writer, Philip Hughes, says of these words, “There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture.” [1] This verse is the epicenter of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  You should know, underline, memorize, and take it into your life.

We saw last week that God has removed every barrier to reconciliation with men and women on his side, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).  This is what God was doing at the cross.  But how did he do it?  What happened at the cross to bring about this great reconciliation?  “He made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that

in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Why Jesus Is Uniquely Qualified to Deal with Our Sins

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21).

1. He was holy

Christ knew no sin – he was holy.  This was affirmed by the angels, by the devils, and by God the Father.

The words of the angel

When the angel came to Mary, the mother of Jesus, he said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The words of the devils

When Jesus came into a synagogue in Capernaum, a man with an unclean spirit said to him, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

Jesus is the only man who ever lived of whom it could be said that he is God.  Jesus is the only man who ever lived of whom it could be said that he is holy.

The Lord Jesus Christ was holy in his conception, holy in his nature, holy in his life, and holy in his death.  He is confessed forever in heaven, and even in hell, and among his own people on earth as forever the Holy One of God.

The words of the Father

At Jesus’ baptism a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17; 17:5).  Jesus is the only person who ever lived of whom God could categorically say this.

2. He was without sin

It is the unanimous witness of the New Testament that Christ was without sin.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but
one who in every respect has been temped as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:22).

You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5).

Here’s why this matters: Only a person without sin of their own could be in a position to deal with the sins of others.  If it were possible for one person to bear the guilt and the sins of others, it would take a person who was holy through and through, in himself, to do it.

Here is the unique glory of our Lord Jesus Christ: In all of human history there has never been another person of whom it could be said, “He is God, he is man, and he is holy.” As God, he is able to reconcile us to the Father, and as man, he is able to stand with us and act for us, by laying his life down as a sacrifice.

Jesus is uniquely qualified to deal with our sins.  Nobody else is in a position even to attempt what Christ has done.  That is why the apostle Peter says, “You were ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

How God Deals with People Who Reconcile to Him in Jesus

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

What we have in this verse is a description of what God does for any person who is “in him” or who is in Christ.  “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).  Now he stands before us with open arms, appealing to us, “Be reconciled to God!”

1. God does not count your sins against you

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19).

The reason that a Christian is reconciled to God and has peace with him is not that he or she is without sin.  The reason is rather that “in Christ” God does not count our sins against us.

Charles Hodge makes this striking statement about Christians: “Considered in ourselves, [we] are just as undeserving and hell-deserving as ever.  This act of justification is to us an act of infinite grace.” [2]

He is not denying that there is change, growth, and progress in the Christian believer.  Of course there is.  But if any Christian believer was taken out of Christ and left to stand on our own two feet before God, on the basis of our progress in the Christian life, even the best of us would be lost forever – just as if we’d never made any attempt at living the Christian life.

Christian, you will arrive at heaven still a sinner in the process of recovery, and the reason you will enter in is not because of your progress, but because you are in Christ, and in Christ, God does not count your sins against you.

So what happened to these sins that he doesn’t count against you?  Where do they go, that they are not counted against you?

2. God counts your sin dealt with in Christ

For our sake he made him to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus was made sin for us on the cross.  This is surely one of the most amazing statements in the entire Bible.  Christ is holy in himself, the spotless Lamb of God, and our sins were laid on him.

When I first became a pastor, I bought a little black book, because my pastor had a little black book that he used to bring with him into the pulpit when he preached.  I thought I should be like him, but I don’t use that little black book anymore.

I remember my pastor holding his little black book in one hand and saying, “Now, all your sins are laid on you.  And when Jesus went to the cross, if you are in Christ, your sins were laid on him.”  And he would set the little black book on his other hand.

Horatius Bonar said, “God dealt with him as if he were really a sinner, such as we are.  He treated him as if all iniquity was centered in Him.  The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was clothed with our guilt.  He bore the burden of our iniquities… In all respects the Father dealt with Him as guilty of our transgressions.” [3]

Brother, sister, when you think about your sins remember this, by almighty God your sins were laid on him, your Savior.  I love the verse that says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9).  Why does it say that God is “just” to forgive our sins?  Why doesn’t it say something like, “He is faithful and kind to forgive our sins”?

Because our peace with God, which is a free gift of grace, is founded on justice.  God has not reconciled you to himself by sweeping your sins under the carpet, so that one day, if the carpet is lifted, they might all be stirred up again.

No.  God has dealt with our sins in Christ!  They were laid on him, the spotless Lamb of God was made sin for us.  He died in our place.  He became the sacrifice for us.  Our sins were dealt with on the cross.  God made him who knew no sin to be sin!  And he did it for our sake!

Friends, if Jesus did not bear our sins, then each of us must carry our own sins forever.  One or the other are true for every one of us.  If our sins are not on him, they are still on us.  But if our sins are on Jesus, they are not on us, and cannot ever be on us.  They cannot bounce back on us, because they were absorbed and dealt with on the cross.

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. [4]

God laid your sins on Jesus and he dealt with them in Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus bore all of your sins, and all of the consequences they could ever bring.  The righteous judgment that would have been yours fell on him.  He absorbed it and he exhausted it.  The flaming sword was broken on him, as far as you are concerned, so that you should be reconciled to God.

How could any sins ever be charged against you when all of your sins have been charged against Jesus?  Put these two things together: God does not count your sins against you.

God counts your sin dealt with in Christ.  And there’s more…

3. God counts Christ’s righteousness as yours

He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Try to take this in because it will be the center of our worship in heaven forever and ever.  In himself, Jesus was the sinless Son of God.  But our sins were laid on him, and God dealt with him as if he was sin itself.  In ourselves, we are sinners, but God’s righteousness has be draped on us, and God deals with us as if we were righteousness itself.

God dealt with Christ as he deals with sin, even though Christ is holy.  God deals with us as he deals with righteousness, even though we are sinners.  In Jesus, we become the righteousness of God.  I love this phrase – “the righteousness of God.”

Paul speaks about this in Philippians.  He says that he wants to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

Why faith?  Because faith is what unites us to Christ.  Faith is what causes us to be “in” Christ.  All of these things can become true in Jesus Christ.

The question is not, “How much progress have you made in the Christian life?”  The question is: “Are you believing in Jesus?”  If a person says, “I would know that I had peace with God if I were more holy, or if I prayed more, or if I was had made more progress,” they are seeking to be found, not in him, but in their own prayer, in their own holiness, or in their own progress.

Paul says, “That is exactly what I don’t want to do!  I want to be found in Christ not have a righteousness of my own… but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9).

So, thank God that he does not deal with you on the basis of what you are in yourself or even at your best!  He sees you in Christ, in whom your sins are dealt with, and in whose perfect righteousness you now stand before God.  So do not lose heart!

If You Really Believe This,
What Difference Will It Make to Your Life?

1. People who believe this truth will love Jesus Christ

Bonar says: “God looks on us in Him, blesses us in Him, loves us in Him, and will glorify and reward us in Him.  We are complete in Him.  It is our connection with Him through believing that gives us this completeness in the Father’s eyes.  To the end of our earthly course we are incomplete in ourselves; yet from the moment we believed we became complete in Him.” [5]

If you believe this, you will quickly come to the conclusion that all you have is in Jesus Christ.  You will say that no sacrifice is too great for him who became sin for you.

2. People who believe this truth will take sin seriously

How can you do any other when you love Jesus?  Look what sin did to him!  When you see what happened on that cross, and when you see how much God hates it, and what it cost your Savior to deal with it, there will be a new energy in your life to be done with it.

If you come to believe this, it will energize your responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.  When he shows you your sin, you will find yourself saying, “I cannot live with this any longer.”

Do you have an awareness of sin in your life?  Do you have a sense of how far you are from what God calls you to be?  How can the Holy Spirit be present in your life if you have no awareness of sin, and no interest in turning from it?  Why are you calling yourself a Christian if you are content to continue in sin?  Why would you think that you are heading to heaven if these things don’t matter to you?

3. People who believe this truth reconcile to God

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:19-21).

When God has done all this, why would you walk away?  His arms are stretched out.  What kind of folly is it for you to push him away?  Wouldn’t you want this to be true of you today?


[1] Philip Hughes (New International Commentary, 2 Corinthians; Eerdman’s: 1962) p. 211.

[2] Charles Hodge (Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; Eerdman’s: 1950) p. 151

[3] Horatius Bonar, (Kelso Tracts;  No. 26, Righteous Reconciliation, U of Mich: 2009) p. 3.

[4] Philip Bliss (It Is Well with My Soul, from the hymn) 1876

[5] Horatius Bonar, (Kelso Tracts;  No. 26, Righteous Reconciliation, U of Mich: 2009) p. 4.


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