“For he [God] hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us” (II Cor. 5:21a). Here is the gospel in a nutshell. Clearly, this one clause does not expound in detail all the particulars of the truth about this doctrine, but it suggests the following essential details.
1. Salvation is God’s work. This clause contains the divine stamp of inspiration. Had man written it, some work or effort of man would have been in the forefront. But God begins with Himself. Salvation is not man’s idea, nor is it wrought by man’s efforts. This verse states the simple truth that salvation commenced with God, the First Person of the Trinity, who purposed to redeem man; it continued with Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, who died a propitiatory and substitutionary death. (Other passages reveal that salvation concluded with the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, who indwelt, sanctified, and sealed believers.)
2. Salvation is through Christ alone. On one side of this verse, we have an infinitely high, holy, and righteous God. On the other side, we have infinitely low, lost, and depraved sinners. The gulf between the two is . . . infinite. But in the middle of this verse, we have the Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God, who became man in order that He might die and bridge the gap between God and His fallen, rebellious creatures. This Scripture gives the lie to any premise suggesting that man can save himself, either in whole or in part.
3. Salvation is from sin. “Made . . . to be sin.” There is an infinite measure of love in that phrase, for it sets forth our predicament. Why would God do such a thing to His Son unless we were truly held helpless in the grip of sin, unless there were no other remedy than the death of His Son, and unless He loved us despite our sin? Modern theology, such as it is, makes little of man’s sin, but God does not. Sin is the defining characteristic of man. It takes the forefront in the account of Adam and his fall as recorded in Genesis, runs its rebellious course throughout the pages of the Word, and culminates in the complete rebellion and worldwide judgment described in the Book of the Revelation. The very best of men—Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul—are shown to be sinners in need of salvation.
4. Salvation is by substitution. “For us”—those two words express the truth of substitution. Christ died a vicarious death, one that was in the sinner’s place and for his benefit. He alone bore the wrath of God that sinners deserve; He alone satisfied God’s holy and just demands regarding sin. He did for sinners what they could not do for themselves, paying God’s price for sin, a price that no sinner could afford. It is Christ or nothing; it is Christ or wrath; it is Christ or hell. He is the sinner’s substitute.
Only someone blinded and hardened by sin could believe otherwise. The Scripture is replete with this truth. For example: ”Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin . . . . He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:10, 11). “Who [Christ] was delivered for our offences” (Rom. 4:25). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8:3, 4). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
May we all believe, and marvel, and worship, and rejoice.
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