“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus Christ took the place of sinners. He was our substitute. A substitute takes the place of another. This gracious act is what theologians mean by the term “substitutionary atonement.” As Christ suffered, bled, and died on the cruel cross of Calvary, He died in our place and bore the sins of many (Isaiah 53:12). And as substitute, He took the punishment for sin that we so rightly deserved. In that moment, the wrath and punishment for our sin was transferred to Christ. Our sins were imputed to His account, meaning they were charged to Him. To help us understand this better, consider what is referred to in the financial world as a “balance transfer.” All of our sin was transferred to Christ’s account, taking away our sin, our guilt and our shame.
In our passage above, the apostle Paul writes to the early Corinthian church and explains God’s transfer policy that took place at Calvary. Jesus Christ, who never sinned once, instantly became a heaping mass of sin as He was placed into the oven of God’s fury. And as the events of Golgotha unfolded, the sinless spotless Lamb of God took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
We are most undeserving of this gracious balance transfer. Because of our sin, we actually deserve eternal punishment in the confines of hell (Romans 3:23A). Yet God graciously and freely offered His one and only begotten Son as a perpetual sacrifice to pay the price for our sin, something that we could never afford to pay for ourselves. The reason why we cannot pay this debt is because we are totally bankrupt sinners before a holy and righteous God. We have no equity to hold claim to, nor do we have some accumulated amount of merit or accomplishments that we can boast of that can serve as credit in our favor. Instead, (and to use another financial term) we are “in the red.” We are deficient because we fall short of God’s standard and are in need of a righteous Savior who will pay our sin debt in full. Even our best falls short of God’s standard, and the only one who could meet that standard was Jesus.
But this transaction is actually twofold. Not only were our sins charged to Christ’s account, but His righteousness was charged to our account. Paul wrote in Romans 4:1-5, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found; for if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” So we must place faith in Christ for our sin debt to be charged to Jesus. As we trust Him for salvation, we are justified given right standing with God. This is all because of His Son’s righteousness that has been put into our account.
These truths are the heart of the gospel message. Salvation is not based upon good works, personal accomplishments, or even church membership. It is solely based upon what Christ did on the cross for sinners. Those who are in Christ, are no longer burdened with a sin debt and carry an account in the red, but rather are now under the red, royal, regal redeeming Crimson blood of Christ (Isaiah 1:18). If we do not surrender our lives to Christ, and instead attempt to carry the burden of our sinful condition, we will stay in the red. Only trusting Christ and believing on Him for salvation cancels and clears our debt bringing our account into right status.
– Pastor Eric