“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
Martin Luther called this truth “the great exchange.” It is the instantaneous transaction that takes place when we first believe in Jesus. God transfers our sin to Jesus and his righteousness to us. Our sin and death are exchanged for Christ’s righteousness and life! This means that God the Father made his Son to be sin for us even though he was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:14). The Father treated his Son as if he was a sinner. He did this because he had imputed our sin and guilt to him. God essentially made his Son a sin offering as in the prophet Isaiah, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). When the Father punished his beloved Son on the cross, he condemned him for our sin, not his own. On the cross Jesus was bearing all our sin. This is why he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Ponder the sinless Son of God on the cross. See him as he is made the idolater, the blasphemer, the liar, the thief, the prostitute, the adulterer, the whore, the murderer! He is innocent yet by imputation he becomes guilty. He is judged as if he committed our crimes; for he dies for our treason against our God and King. We may ask, “Why did God the Father do this to his Son?” Our text tells us the answer: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Behold the entire gospel in a single verse! Christ is made our sin; we are made his righteousness. Christ is condemned; we are justified. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Our justification before God consists not only in the forgiveness of our sins but in the imputation of the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. His perfect obedience is imputed to us. “For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). He perfectly fulfilled the law for us. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:2). When he obeyed, he fulfilled the law’s precept; when he died he fulfilled the law’s penalty. His righteousness includes his whole life of obedience which culminated in his death on the cross. He became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). This is how our God has made his beloved Son to be our righteousness. The best biblical illustration of this truth is the third chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy where we find Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord in filthy garments. There we see this great exchange in action. On the one hand, God removes Joshua’s filthy garments; and, on the other hand, he clothes him with clean garments. This reveals the double blessing of our justification in Christ. God exchanges the filthy garments of our sin for the clean garments of the righteousness of Jesus. What a glorious exchange! This is cause for great rejoicing! “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). Today let us sing of this spiritual transaction that has taken place in our lives! “Jesus, thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; ‘midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.” Christian, be assured today that all your sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus and all his righteousness has been imputed to you! “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).