by John Lowe
In the great transaction that was completed on the cross our sin was placed on Christ by imputation in the same way in which His righteousness is placed on the born again believer by imputation. And He was nailed to the cross in our place and all the suffering he endured was on our behalf; the worst of it coming when the Father left Him alone, and He was heard to say, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). But finally, He was made a sin-offering for us; He suffered more than any man and He gave up his life. He said, “It is finished:” the great transaction was completed and God was satisfied with the price that was paid. The way was open to reconciliation. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, that is, subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper punishment for sin. Or you believe as I do that He was both “a sin offering,” and “God treated Him as if He was actually a sinner.” In any case, it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by vicarious sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Lock’s rendering of this verse gives clarity and expresses the true sense: “For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin.”
Who knew no sin
He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This is the idea expressed by Peter in 1 Peter 2:22; “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;” and in Hebrews 7:26, it is said He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been so, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence, the New Testament writers take great pains to keep this idea always before us, for the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation rests on this doctrine. The phrase “knew no sin,” is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates He is entirely and perfectly pure. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.
That we might become the righteousness of God in Him
This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as “divinely righteous.” It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, He was treated as if He were a sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured on our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and had never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase “righteousness of God,” there is a reference to the fact that this is His plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.
Those who become righteous, or are justified, are justified by His plan, and by a method which he has devised. Locke renders this: “that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God.” The idea is that we receive all our righteousness in the sight of God in and through a Redeemer. It is all to be traced to Him. This verse embodies the whole plan of salvation, and the uniqueness of the Christian religion. On the one hand, One who was perfectly innocent is treated as if he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which if he were guilty would be a proper punishment for sin, and He does it voluntarily and as a substitute for those who are truly guilty. And on the other hand, those who are guilty and who deserve to be punished, are treated (because of his vicarious sufferings) as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God's commendation and favor if he had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without substitution, there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on people to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given His only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used for why we should cease our opposition to Him, and become His friends.
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