Christ Was Made Sin…For Us

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…”  Let’s leave off the rest of the verse for now.

This verse speaks about both Jesus’ life and death.

“Him who had no sin”=Jesus’ life.   “To be sin for us”=Jesus’ death.

Here, Paul first explicitly affirms the sinlessness of Jesus.  Since sin is the necessary fruit of our sinful natures, I think it is right to say that Jesus did not have a sinful nature.  He was human like us (Rom 8:3), but without any inward or outward sin.

His sinless life was crucial for the death he would die.  Because he had no sin of his own to die for, he could fully and perfectly bear the sins of the world upon him.

When we read that “God made him” to be sin for us, we shouldn’t imagine Jesus unwillingly going to the cross (as if the Father at some point had to say, “I’m going to make you hang there on that tree and die for them!”).

In fact, Jesus himself states the opposite in John 10:18a: “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”  It was the Father’s plan to send the Son (John 3:16), and the Son went, becoming obedient even to death on a cross (Phil 2:8).

So the sinless Jesus was made “sin.”  This is a crucial acknowledgment for Christians to make, for we hold precious the idea that Jesus bore the penalty for our every iniquity.  God treated Jesus as sin, pouring his wrath on his Son for our salvation.  Jesus did not pay for our sins in part but in full.

“For us” is key in 2 Cor 5:21.  Jesus’ death was substitutionary.  The sinless Son died for us–the sinless for the sinful.

Let’s ask the who, what, when, where, and why questions.

Who?  Jesus

What?  Became sin for us.

When?  2,000 years ago.

Where?  On the cross.

Why?  So that “in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21b).

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The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller

I don’t normally blog about a book while only halfway through reading it, but I’m making an exception here.  Go and buy The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.  While you’re doing that, buy everything that Keller has written (his previous book The Prodigal God is simply incredible).

The subtitle of the book is Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  Keller divides the 250 pages into two main sections: the first half deals with the seven most common objections to Christianity, and then the second half makes a case for the Christian faith.

It’s does not seem often that a New York Times bestseller also has great theological content, but The Reason for God is just that kind of jewel.  This book is good for skeptics and for believers, for different reasons of course.

Ours in an age of skepticism indeed.  I’m thankful for writers like Keller who take the questions head-on and who provide cogent, biblical answers.  The answers may not always be easy, but Keller is presenting the truth–and isn’t that what should matter most?

Possible Christmas Texts for Preaching

If you are preaching Christmas messages next month, consider opting for a different passage than the traditional Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with those passages, but congregations may benefit from thinking about the coming of Christ from passages not normally associated with Christmas.  More passages tell of Jesus’ coming than just the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.

At FBC Santo, my Christmas messages have looked like this

  • In 2006, John 1:14
  • In 2007, Luke 1:26-38
  • In 2008, John 7:40-52
  • In 2009, John 3:16-21

Lord-willing, in the coming years I will preach the coming of Christ from texts like (in no particular order) Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7:12, Isaiah 9, Micah 5:2, John 6:33, John 8:12, John 17:18, John 18:37, Romans 1:3-4, Romans 8:3-4, Romans 16:25-27, Galatians 4:4-5, Philippians 2:6-8, Colossians 1:19-20, Colossians 2:9-10, Hebrews 1:1-3, Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 1:1-4, and Revelation 12.

There are so many more to choose from, especially from the Old Testament.  Perhaps the Lord will lead your Christmas preaching to an unexpected text in order to proclaim our expected Messiah.

Does God Really Forget Our Sins?

Yes…and no.

Yes, God forgets our sins in the way the Bible describes God’s act of “forgetting.”

But, no, God doesn’t forget our sins in the way we humans forget things.

So when we say God “forgets our sins” (and I think it is okay to say that, since the Bible uses that language), we must be sure to qualify what we mean.  If such language is flippantly used, it may result in severe misunderstanding.

The most helpful text in this discussion is Jeremiah 31:34, which includes this parallelism at the end:

“For I      will forgive           their wickedness
and          will remember     their sins no more”

In poetic and prophetic texts, synonymous parallelism is a common literary device that usually results in two mutually-interpreting phrases.

In this case, the Lord is not saying he will forgive wickedness and then, secondly, not remember their sins.  This verse is not describing two different divine actions.

Instead, the word “forgive” is synonymous with “remember…no more.”  Seeing this synonymous parallelism is reinforced by the objects of the two verbs: “their wickedness” is synonymous with “their sins.”

God doesn’t forget our sins in the way that we might forget what we received as birthday presents two years ago.  God also doesn’t choose to limit his omniscience in order to see us as “righteous in Christ.”  Such understandings about human forgetfulness unfortunately take the Bible’s anthropomorphic language about God too literally.

The Bible’s description of God “forgetting our sins” is simply another way of saying God “forgives our sins.”

Forgetting=Forgiving.

And, by the way, it wouldn’t be good if God actually forgot (in the way that we forget) our sins, because that would compromise his omniscience.  Consider this: if God actually forgets our sins, while we remember them pretty clearly, then we would be affirming that we know something God doesn’t know!  However, the Bible doesn’t even entertain the possibility that man has any knowledge that God himself may lack.

So should Christians say “God forgets our sins”?  Well, there’s no biblical reason not to, and there’s even biblical precedent for it (Jer 31:34).  Just don’t use flippantly unqualified biblical language that could be wrongly interpreted as compromising another biblical truth (namely, God’s omniscience).

As Christians, we celebrate the awesome reality that God knows everything–including every one of our sins.  But as believers, we also celebrate the fact that God no longer counts our iniquities against us (Rom 8:1).

Analyzing 2 Corinthians 5:18a

The Apostle Paul says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor 5:18a).

The words “all this” most likely refer to the two previous truths that (1) salvation results in seeing others and Jesus through spiritual eyes (5:16) and that (2) salvation results in a sinner becoming a new creation in Christ (5:17).

Paul, then, affirms that the sinner’s transformed eyes and life are the work of God and God alone.

The rest of 2 Cor 5:18a describes God as the one “who reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and this is the part of the verse I wanted to get to.  Observe the following 5 glorious truths:

(1) God is the subject of the verb–and thus he is the initiator of reconciliation.  Man doesn’t reconcile himself; God reconciles man.  When we have peace with God through reconciliation, it is God who has taken the decisive steps, not man.

(2) We are the object of the verb “reconcile”–thus, sinners are the recipients of God’s act of reconciliation.  We receive what we didn’t initiate; we benefit from what we did not earn.

(3) The verb “reconcile” assumes that there is a barrier between two parties (God and man) that must be overcome.  Our sin alienated us from our Creator, so God took the necessary measures to overcome the barrier of sin (2 Cor 5:21).  If we are not reconciled to God, there remains enmity and hostility between us and our Creator.

(4) The means of God’s reconciling work is his Son, Jesus Christ.  The phrase “through Christ” has in view the work of the cross (2 Cor 5:14, 21).  Jesus died for sinners, and therefore God can reconcile sinners “through Christ.”  God does not reconcile sinners apart from the perfect atoning work of his Son.

(5) God is not only the initiator of reconciliation, he is the goal as well.  God reconciles sinners “to himself.”  Believers, then, have been reconciled to the one from whom they were once alienated.

Praise the Lord for gospel truths clustered so compactly in only half a verse!

Asking Questions of a Narrative

I think it is helpful to ask questions of any narrative text we are reading.  We should ask questions to aid our thinking and reflection, not because we intend to force answers to all of the questions.  Some questions won’t be answered.

For instance, take the familiar account of Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16:25-34.  When I preached the passage last Sunday evening at FBC Santo, I posed the following 10 questions:

(1) Why were the other prisoners up at midnight with Paul and Silas while the jailer was sleeping (vv. 25, 27)?

(2) How aware were the city’s authorities that an earthquake shook the Philippian prison (vv. 26, 35)?

(3) Why did everyone’s chains come loose (v. 26) when Paul and Silas were presumably the only believers in the prison?  Why did the Lord not free just Paul and Silas?

(4) If the jailer saw that prison doors were open, why didn’t he check to see if the prisoners were still there before he decided to end his life (v. 27)?

(5) If the jailer called for lights because he couldn’t see (v. 29), how did Paul know that the jailer was about to kill himself if it was so dark (v. 28)?

(6) If the jailer was sleeping during the singing and praying (vv. 25, 27), what did he want to be “saved” from (v. 30)?

(7) If all the prisoners’ doors were opened and shackles dismantled (v. 26), why didn’t the prisoners try to escape (v. 28)?

(8) When the jailer took Paul and Silas to his house in the middle of the night (vv. 30, 32), what happened to the other prisoners?

(9) When Paul and Silas had evangelized and baptized the jailer and his family (vv. 31-33), why did the two missionaries return to prison (v. 35) instead of escaping?

(10) Why did Paul postpone professing his and Silas’ Roman citizenship (v. 37) until after being beaten and imprisoned (vv. 22-24), when professing it earlier could have avoided such treatment?

I think there are clear answers to some of the questions, less clear answers to others, and disputed answers to the rest.  But my point stands: asking questions of a narrative helps us think about the content and reflect on the relationships between some scenes to other ones.

Feel free to pose some answers to the preceding questions in the comments.  Happy reading.