2 Corinthians 5:21

Sermon preached on April 10, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Not long ago I watched a TV show called "Alaskan Air Crashes". Much of Alaska is not accessible by road or water so many people and businesses rely on small planes for transportation. It's the only way you can get some places. One of the things that surprised me about the show was the statistic that in the summer there is a plane crash in Alaska about every two days. The TV show was about the National Transportation Safety Board and their work in investigating the crashes and trying to figure out what caused the accidents. One of the investigative techniques they use in trying to figure out the cause of a airplane crash is to lay out the wreckage in an indoor facility, like a hangar—so that it can be examined in a environment free from weather and wind. They lay everything out and try to see if cables failed, where the damage was and if it occurred before the crash or as a result of the crash. That's a very effective way of finding what caused the accident. But the problem is that a lot of the crashes in Alaska occur nowhere near hangars, roads or rivers. The wreckage is often hard to get to, the investigators themselves sometimes have to hike miles through the woods. What they need to get the wreckage out are large helicopters. Often it's the only way. The investigators can carry little pieces out, but it's hard enough to hike in let alone carry a plane out. But the NTSB in Alaska isn't equipped to transport the wreckage from remote locations. They don't have helicopters and pilots in Alaska. They have to hire a big helicopter outfit to lift the wreckage and take it to a facility where it can be laid out. And that's what they do. When a plane crashes in a remote area, the NSTB have a problem that they can't solve themselves. They have to hire another company to take the wreckage somewhere where they can examine it.

In a way, that illustrates a problem we have. The NSTB lacks helicopters and can't get them on its own. They have to ask for outside help. Even if they wanted to get their own helicopters—they would have to ask the government for them. As fallen human beings we have a problem that we can never solve on our own. In order to dwell with God, in order to escape the fires of hell, we need a righteousness that is not our own.

We need a righteousness that we don't have.

We can't obtain this righteousness on our own, by our own efforts. It can only come from God.

We need righteousness in order to enter heaven. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said to the people,

"For I tell you that unless your righteousness
surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,
you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

R. Kent Hughes tells us that Jesus words must have been a surprise. (The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word; p. 96)

"To the average man on the street, the Jews of Jesus' day, this was absolutely shocking! The scribes and Pharisees made obedience to God's Law the master passion of their lives. They calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they tried to keep them all. How could anyone surpass that? And how could such righteousness be made a condition to entering the kingdom?"

The context makes it clear that the obedience of the Pharisees and teachers of the law was merely an outward obedience and therefore defective. After this saying Jesus introduces six contrasts that show that true obedience is from the heart. (Matthew 5:21-48)

But besides that we should note that even our best efforts to obey both inwardly and outwardly are insufficient. Romans 3:23 tells us,

"for all have sinned andfall short of the glory of God,"

Because we're sinners, we can never become righteous on our own. Isaiah 64:6 tells us,

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;"

Romans 3:20 shows us our predicament.

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight
by observing the law; rather, through the law
we become conscious of sin."

Galatians 2:15-16 repeats this truth.

"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners'
know that a man is
not justified by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified by faith in Christ and
not by observing the law,
because by observing the law no one will be justified."

In Galatians 2:21 Paul wrote,

"I do not set aside the grace of God,
for if righteousness could be gained
through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Philip Hughes writes, (2 Corinthians, p. 215)

"The cross, therefore, is not an exhibition that all is well, but the proof that all is not well, and the place where God in pure grace and mercy deals with the surd of sin in a matter commensurate with His own holiness and justice."

In order to enter the kingdom of heaven our righteousness is not good enough. It falls terribly short. All our supposed righteousness does is make us fit for hell.

We need to become the righteousness of God. Why? It's because our righteousness falls short. In Luke 18:9 Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. Jesus told the parable

"To some who were of confident
of their own righteousness…"

Jesus said the Pharisee, who was confident in his own righteousness, who in his prayer thanked God that he was better than other men—wasn't right with God. He did not go home justified. But the tax collector, who asked only for mercy—went home justified. Again the point is that that our own righteousness falls short. We need to have our sins washed away and God's righteousness given to us.

But the great news is that we get the righteousness we need in Christ.

The second part of our text is about God's work in giving us Christ's righteousness. It says, 2 Corinthians 5:21,

"God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us, so that in him
we might become the righteousness of God."

Last week I used the illustration of a rap sheet and how our sins were put on Jesus' account. He was made sin for us. The Father made His innocent Son the object of His wrath and judgment, for us.

But God didn't just wipe our slate clean.

The righteousness of Jesus, His obedience was reckoned to us. It was put on our slate.

When we believe in Jesus His righteousness becomes ours. That's exactly what we need. We need a righteousness from God. In a number of places Paul's letter to the Romans makes this clear. Romans 10:3 says of Israel,

"Since they did not know the righteousness that comes
from God and sought to establish their own,
they did not submit to God's righteousness."

Then Paul writes, (Romans 10:4)

"Christ is the end of the law so that
there may be righteousness for everyone who believes."

I've already quoted Romans 3:20 which said that no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing the law. Paul continues, (Romans 3:21–25)

"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law,
has been made known, to which the Law
and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness from God
comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
There is no difference, for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as
a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood."

In our text there is a parallel between Jesus being made sin for us and us being made the righteousness of God in Him. John Calvin writes, (Calvin's Commentaries)

"Let us now return to the contrast between righteousness and sin. How are we righteous in the sight of God? It is assuredly in the same respect in which Christ was a sinner. For he assumed in a manner our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offenses, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us — not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him — not in respect of our rendering satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged of in connection with Christ's righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours."

Our sins were transferred to Him. His righteousness is transferred to us. In Romans 5:18–19 the apostle Paul contrasted the work of Adam with the work of Jesus. He wrote,

"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass
was condemnation for all men,
so also the result of one act
of righteousness was justification
that brings life for all men.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so also through the obedience of the one man
the many will be made righteous."

"In Him', in Jesus, we become the righteousness of God. This is part of our justification. In the Westminster Larger Catechism justification is defined in Question 70: What is justification?

"Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone."

Romans 4:3 tells us that Scripture (Genesis 15:6) says,

"Abraham believed God,
and it was credited to him as righteousness."

In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul said of God,

"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who has become for us wisdom from God—that is,
our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

This means that

our standing in Christ Jesus is one of perfect righteousness.

Our rap sheet is not just wiped clean. Our sins are not just washed away—but Christ's perfect righteousness is imputed to us. John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 968)

"He also imputes Christ's righteousness… This means not only that he removes our sins, but that he positively adds to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. So our legal status is not just not-guilty, not neutral, but righteous. If you think of your legal status numerically, sin had plunged you deep into negative numbers. God's forgiveness brought you back up to zero. But the righteousness of Christ took you far above zero in the eyes of God.""Here is what is often called a double imputation. God imputes our sins to Christ and imputes his righteousness to us. This follows from… [the fact that] that the atonement is a substitutionary sacrifice. Christ receives the punishment for our sins, and we receive the blessings of his righteousness."

In the work of Jesus God didn't restore us to the state Adam was in before he sinned.

No. In a sermon on Ephesians 1:5-6, which deals with our adoption into God's family, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, (God's Ultimate Purpose, p. 125-126)

"Redemption does not stop at merely undoing the effects of the Fall and sin; it goes beyond that! … Christ and His work have been designed to undo the effects of the Fall and of sin. But Paul tells us here that God has gone beyond that by giving us in Christ this adoption of sons."

Because of the work of Jesus we are adopted into God's family and are given Christ's righteousness. It is because of our union with Jesus that this righteousness is ours. We are given this righteousness 'in Him'. This meets our need exactly. We need a righteousness that comes from God and that's what we get in Christ.

Our sins were put on Christ's account and the absolute and spotless perfection of His righteousness is reckoned to us—put on our account. The end result is what Paul declares in Romans 8:1,

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus,"

Right now our standing in Jesus is one of righteousness. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:33–34,

"Who will bring any charge
against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?
Christ Jesus, who died—more than that,
who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God
and is also interceding for us."

No one can condemn. This is because of our union with Christ. We become the righteousness of God 'in Him'. Donald MacLeod writes, (Christ Crucified, p. 155-156)

"Here, the prepositions are crucial. For us, he was made sin; in him, we are made the righteousness of God. This last phrase is remarkable. Righteousness is an absolute. God's righteousness means that he never deviates from his own norms or falls short of his own standards. He is absolutely true to himself as his own law. Can such righteousness possibly be ours? Can we be that righteous? Yes, in Christ! His righteousness is ours, not only because his obedience is that of a divine person but because the human life he lived (albeit as the Son of God) was a perfectly sinless and absolutely holy life over which God could unhesitatingly pronounce the verdict, 'very good'. In him, that righteousness is ours. We are as righteous as God himself: perfect, our sins blotted out."

For you who are Christians, this has many implications.

First, this doctrine is a great defense against discouragement and depression.

Are you concerned about your sins, your failures, your lack of progress in becoming more holy, in becoming more of a person of love. Good! You should be concerned about such things. We all need to improve. We all need to ask for God's help in this regard.

But don't let Satan use these things to throw you into despair or depression. Think of your perfect standing in Christ Jesus. Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 168)

"Now all His righteousness is ours. We are righteous with the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)… Our sins are no longer debited to us (2 Corinthians 5:19). Instead, all that He is and all that He has done is credited to our account. In the High Court of Heaven we have the same rating as Jesus. We are as righteous as He is. For us, He was sin. In Him, we are the righteousness of God; as righteousness as God's own Son; as righteous as God Himself."

That's an incredible statement. But it's true because Christ's righteousness is ours. We are the righteousness of God 'in Him'. Macleod continues,

"This righteousness will stand any scrutiny. Omniscience may look at it and find no fault. Infinite holiness may search it and find no blemish. Justice may weigh it and find no short-fall. Conscience may search it, and turn it this way and that, and look at it from every angle and place it under its own pernickety microscope and yet pronounce itself utterly satisfied. It is absolutely right; and it is right all the time. When our faith languishes, when our prayers labor, when grace burns low, when we let God and ourselves down, our righteousness remains the same. Our sins and shortcomings can no more undo our righteousness in Christ than our occasional moments of honor and high endeavor can cancel the guilt we derive from Adam. We are righteous, completely and once for all; as justified today as we ever shall be, even in heaven itself; and as secure in our membership of the household of God as the Son of God Himself. Too good to be true? No! Good enough to be true!"

This means that

we ought to rejoice in Jesus because of this doctrine.

What do we have in Jesus? We have righteousness that we need to stand before God and be accepted. We should rejoice in this. Isaiah 61:10 says,

"I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

What words! What a gift from God. Romans 8:1 should always be close to our hearts.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those
who are in Christ Jesus,"

We have the righteousness of Christ now. We will have it forever. Matthew 13:43 says of the final age,

"Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

If you're a believer in Jesus, that righteousness in yours today.

For those of you who are not Christians,

the one thing you need is the righteousness that comes from God.

Yes, I know that you think that you're going to be okay on your own. You think you're a good person and relative to some other people you are.

But you're not good enough to dwell with God. Your righteousness is defective. It's filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 it will not help us. In Philippians 3 Paul said that his good works, which he was so proud of, became dung when he saw the righteousness that he needed. He wrote, (Philippians 3:8–9)

"What is more, I consider everything a loss
compared to the surpassing greatness
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness
of my own that comes from the law, but that which is
through faith in Christ—the righteousness
that comes from God and is by faith."

You need a perfect righteousness. You can only get it in Jesus.

No other religion deals with the problem is sin adequately. Only Christianity shows you the truth. You're lost on your own. You can't save yourself by trying to be good. You need Jesus to wash away your sins and give you the righteousness that God requires. God to Him today. Repent of your pride and find life eternal with Him.