Part 4 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.
Now we must ask why God is even able to declare people righteous. Many people ask how a loving God can send people to hell. It might be fairer to ask, “How can holy and righteous God let sinners go to heaven?” The answer lies in the fact that God is first able to declare us righteous because Jesus, his Son, became sin for us.
When Christ died, God, in a spiritual, cosmic transaction, took our sin and imputed it into himself in the person of Jesus. The word “impute” means to credit, to charge, or to assign to something or someone. Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words defines it as, “To charge to one’s account.” The ESV Bible regularly uses the word “counted” to describe this action of God.
This theme of imputation begins, actually, with Adam. Because of his sin, we have been imputed with sin (the doctrine of “original sin”). Paul says, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). In the same chapter Paul writes that many died through one man’s trespass. (v. 15). Finally, in verse 18, Paul says that one trespass led to condemnation for all men.
The second kind of imputation in the Bible is that of our sin being imputed to Christ, and the third kind is that of Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (which we’ll discuss in more detail in the next post). In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What we see in this last verse is that Christ didn’t just take on our sin; he was literally “made…to be sin.”
In Galatians, Paul goes even further to say that “Christ redeemed us…by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). When Jesus died, he didn’t take on a curse, he become one. In his death, there was a cosmic, legal transaction that occurred so that our sin was imputed to him and, in turn, his righteousness was imputed to us.
Finally, in Isaiah 53, we read a prophecy about our sin being imputed to Jesus (and also his righteousness being credited to us). Isaiah writes that Christ “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v. 4), “was wounded for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5), had “the iniquity of us all” laid on him (v. 6), and has borne our “iniquities” (v. 11). It’s plain that Christ had to take our sin upon his soul as if it were his very own if we were to be declared righteous before God.
To be continued.
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Update: Modified as of 3/12/10. In addition to the change, here’s a clarification:
- Why doesn’t Jesus still retain our sin? In other words, how can he be in God’s presence with our sin on him? Jesus did take on our sin. And the Father did regard him as sin, even though he didn’t deserve it. The Father did this so that all who might put their faith in Jesus might be saved. But Christ does not still have our sin on/in him like he did when he died on the cross. When Christ rose from the grave, his sacrificial work was finished (Heb. 1:3-4). These verses in Hebrews tell us that Christ sat down at the right hand of the Father. Jesus’ resurrection showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is the conquerer of sin and death, not the other way around. Because Jesus rose from the grave as victorious Lord, Savior, and King, the Father no longer regards him as sin (as he did on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross). The resurrection was Jesus’ vindicating act to show that he is Lord of life, Defeater of death, and indeed God incarnate.