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2 Corinthians 5:21

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Continuing our study on the atonement of Jesus and His payment of the debt of obedience and punishment that we owe God, we can now look a bit deeper at what we might call the “mechanics” of how this all happens with respect to the believer and his representation by Christ. That is, since God is the perfect Judge and our debt to Him is therefore a legal issue, what exactly is the legal transaction that takes place before the bar of His judgment that satisfies our debt of punishment and pays the debt of obedience?

Scripture answers this question in the doctrine of justification by double imputation. We see in the New Testament that eternal life was not Adam’s by right but could be his only by his perfect obedience. Since Jesus merited our eternal life by His obedience, it follows that Adam would have merited eternal life for all those in him if he had obeyed (Rom. 5:12–21). Paying the debt of punishment was necessary to save us, but if all Jesus did was to bear God’s curse on sin, we could not be saved because salvation also requires a record of positive, active obedience to the law of God. Without this obedience, there is no eternal life.

Because we are sinners, we cannot render the perfect obedience to God’s law that we need to enter the kingdom of heaven. Happily, our Father in His grace sent Jesus to be the second Adam to live a sinless life and obey God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He came to keep our Creator’s commandments and thereby fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). We refer to this as the active obedience of Christ.

God imputed our sin to Christ—put it on Him—on the cross so that He could pay the debt of penalty in His atoning death. He put the record of perfect obedience that Christ won on our accounts. By faith alone we access these benefits. There is a double transfer by imputation in God’s heavenly court—our Father puts our sin on Jesus, and He puts Jesus’ righteousness on our record. Thus, God sees us in Christ and declares us righteous in our justification. God regards us in Christ as having met all the demands for citizenship in the heavenly kingdom and eternal life (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why Paul calls Jesus our “righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). The Lord demands righteousness of sinners for eternal life, and the only thing that will satisfy Him is Jesus Himself.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

If we do not get the doctrine of justification by double imputation correct, we will compromise the gospel and lose assurance of salvation. If we have to stand before God’s judgment seat in our own righteousness, we will be condemned, for our righteousness has not met His perfect standard. But if we stand before God’s judgment in the righteousness of Christ, we have nothing to fear, for His work meets God’s perfect standard.

For further study
  • Isaiah 53:4–6
  • Zechariah 3:1–5
  • Romans 4
  • Philippians 3:2–11
The bible in a year
  • Daniel 7–8
  • 1 John 5

To Whom Did Christ Pay the Ransom?

Bearing God’s Curse

Keep Reading The Doctrines of Grace

From the December 2023 Issue
Dec 2023 Issue