Tom Roberts


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Associate Editorial

How Was Christ 'Made to be Sin'?


One aspect of Calvinistic doctrine is the three-fold error whereby it is taught that (1) Adam's sin was transferred to mankind; (2) man's sin was transferred to Christ; and (30) Christ's personal righteousness was transferred to believers. None of these statements are true nor do they reflect accurately the Bible doctrine of "imputation." In this article we will note the second of these errors and study the claim that the sins of mankind have been transferred to Christ.

A verse often used in this context is 2 Corinthians 5:21: "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him." The phrase "he made to be sin" is the controversial part of the text and one that is grossly misused. We need to understand in what sense God made Christ "to be sin." Did God place our sins on Christ? Would that make Christ a sinner? Did Christ die a spiritual death as well as a physical death on the cross? Just what is meant? As in all studies, we need to consider all that the Bible says and not take one verse to mean something that would contradict other Bible passages.

First of all, we can clear the air considerably when we note that the Bible teaches that Christ was not a sinner. Our text states: "Him who knew no sin..." Additionally, we see 1 Peter 2:22: "Who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." From these and other passages, it is clear that Christ did no sin on His own. So the question before us is: "Did Christ become a sinner by a transference of our sins to Himself?" I believe the answer to this is also "No." There is not a single Bible passage which indicates that sin from one person (or righteousness) is ever transferred to another.

If we take the position that our sins were transferred to Christ, we are faced with the fact that Christ would have been a sinner. Isaiah 59:1-2 states that "sins and iniquities separate from God." Romans 6:23 states that the "wage of sin is death." We are being asked to believe that Christ actually "bore our sin" and died a spiritual death in our stead. Such a position falls short of the truth and would lead one into grave error on other points. Let us note carefully what the Bible teaches about Christ "being made sin on our behalf."

Romans 8:3 puts it this way: "...God, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Friends, there is quite a difference in something being a likeness of something and actually being it. While Christ wore a human body, it was not stained by sin, either His own or of others. When Christ died on the cross, He died a physical death and this death was a punishment for sin ("...the soul that sineth, it shall die" — Ezekiel 18:4). But He took the punishment that was due to us. He did not die because He was guilty or because He took our guilt upon Himself. He took our punishment!

Isaiah 53 sheds light on the question. Isaiah says, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (vs. 4-5). Now reason with me a little. If you can understand in what manner an innocent man suffers in the place of the guilty, you can see what this is teaching. Christ was "wounded for our transgression." He was "bruised for our iniquities." "Our chastisement" was upon Him. Jesus no more actually took our sins upon Him than He actually took our griefs and sorrows upon Him. Have all my griefs been transferred to Christ? Have all my sorrows been transferred to him? No, of course not; we can easily see that. And in the same fashion we can see that our sins were not transferred to Him but that He took the "stripes" and "bruises" that were due to us because we were justly guilty. He stood in our stead. This is what 1 Corinthians 15:3 means when it states that "Christ died for our sins," and Galatians 1:4 means when it says Christ "gave himself for our sin." He was a "sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 10:12) and in that sense He "bare our sins" (1 Peter 2:24) just as He took our griefs and sorrows. He was "made to be sin" in that He took our punishment and was treated as or like a sinner even while He was innocent. He "suffered for sins" (1 Peter 3:18) not His own and in that fashion God "made him to be sin" (only from the punishment standpoint) and by that act He "purged our sins" (Hebrews 1:3).

We need to be extremely careful and not take a single passage of the Bible and stretch it to mean something that contradicts other passages. Doing such arrays passage against passage, rather than harmonizing them.

To teach that 2 Corinthians 5:21 portrays Christ as receiving the guilt of our sins rather than the punishment for our sins violates this very principle. I challenge anyone to produce the evidence that teaches that guilt (or righteousness) is ever transferred from one person to another. Adam's guilt was "put to his account" because he was guilty. My guilt is put to my account because I am guilty. By the grace of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous exposed His back to the punishment which was rightly mine. "By his stripes, we are healed." "He was bruised for our iniquities." "He was wounded for our transgression" and it is in that manner that "our iniquities are laid on him." Whereas I could rightly be condemned eternally for my sins, Jesus bore my punishment and "purged" my sins by His death. This is saving grace in action and we need not confuse the issue by injecting denominational ideas and concepts into it.

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