An evangelistic tract reassures the reader (who is presumed to be unsaved) that “God loves you so much he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, to bear your sin and die in your place.” A Bible verse is quoted to support that statement: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Does this scripture prove the point? Can an unrepentant sinner say, “God loves me”, and ignore the fact that the Bible says that God hates all evildoers (Psalm 5:5)? Can the unbeliever say, “Since Christ died in my place to take away my sin, I am free from guilt and punishment”? Can he ignore Jesus’ warning that unbelievers die in their sins (John 8:21, 24)?
A proper understanding of this scripture shows that it does prove God’s amazing love to his people, sinful as they are, but it gives no comfort to the unrepentant and unbelieving sinner whatsoever. While it clearly teaches that Christ is the sin-bearer for his people, it does not teach the same regarding the lost. It is not even speaking about them. The lost, unless they repent and believe in Christ, will bear their sins upon their heads at death and after judgement they will spend eternity in Hell.
The Apostle Paul states that God made Christ “sin for us.” In context the word “us” refers to Paul, the writer, and the Christians in Corinth to whom the letter was originally addressed. Naturally, the same is applicable to all Christians. Therefore “us” must mean Christians, and it cannot be twisted to mean Christians and unbelievers.
God made Jesus “sin for us” is a profound summary statement of Christ’s redemptive work. He, the immaculate and sinless Son of God, became “sin” for our sake. Not that he became a sinner by nature or by practice. As the representative head of his people Jesus took upon himself the legal responsibility and punishment for their sins. He bore their sin and was sacrificed as a sin-offering to pay the full payment required by the Law of God. Thus God’s people are freed from sin because it was taken away by their Saviour. What a glorious truth revealed by God in this scripture!
Every one of us must ask in all seriousness, “Am I included in the ‘us’ of 2 Corinthians 5:21?” It is only when a sinner repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ that he can rejoice in God’s love and the substitutionary sacrifice of his beloved Son.