The Righteousness of God in Him- 2 Corinthians 5:21

In our previous post, we saw that Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us, and, as we conclude 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us the reason why this was necessary. The purpose of Christ being made sin for us was “in order that” (the Greek hina), “we might become the righteousness of God in Him”. As we unpack what this phrase is telling us, we begin with the word “might”. This English word is not in the Greek text, but is added by the translators due to the fact that the word become is in the subjunctive voice here. The subjunctive is the voice of possibility, it has been made possible, by Christ being made sin, for some to be made the righteousness of God, and the ones who become the righteousness of God are those who are “in Him”. And who are those who are in Him? Those who have accepted the reconciliation provided by God and become a new creation through faith in Jesus Christ. This message of the believer as a new creation is further emphasized here through the use of “become”. The Greek word become here is ginomai, and refers to someone or something becoming what it is not, to a change in its state or condition. Those who are in Christ undergo a change of state and condition, again a summary of what Paul has told us previously, that those in Christ enter into a new state, the state of reconciliation with God, and also into a new condition, the condition of being a new creation in Christ. Paul then tells us here something further about this “becoming” which the believer experiences, that those in Christ become “the righteousness of God”. So we must then address the question, “what does Paul mean here by the righteousness of God”? The Greek word righteousness here is dikaiosune, from the Greek root dike. The basic idea behind all words formed from this root is “that which is right”, to do what is right, to uphold what is right, to conform to what is right. The same root is also often translated as just or justice, for to do justice is to do what is right. One who is “righteous” is one who conforms to a standard, who observes prescribed norms, who measures up. It is very important to understand that Paul does not neglect to tell us here that this righteousness is “of God”. He does so because righteousness, by its nature, has a bit of a subjective element. What that means is that someone must decide what constitutes “right”, someone must set the standard, someone must prescribe the norms, and for those who are “in Christ”, it is God who sets the standard, it is God who prescribes the norms. So what, then, is the standard which God has set, what norm has He prescribed? We find the answer in Psalm 24:3-4, which reads as follows: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart”. First of all, we will recall that Psalms are poetry, and poetic language and imagery are used here. The two questions posed at the beginning are an example of Hebrew parallelism, of saying the same thing in slightly different ways. Both, then, are capturing the image of standing in the presence of God, of being able to stand before His throne, to enter into His presence. Those who are able to do so are those who are described in the next line, those with “clean hands and a pure heart”. These are two poetic expressions, the first (clean hands) describing one who does what is right, and the second (pure heart) one who does what is right with the right motive. We also must note the usage of the word “has” here, which refers to clean hands and a pure heart being a facet of ones existence, as describing someone who always lives with clean hands and a pure heart. The standard God has set is very high, and only one has ever lived up to it, only one always lived with clean hands and a pure heart. That one has made it possible for all who are in Him to “stand in His holy place”. This possibility is made reality in the lives of those who are “in Him”, and this is because those who are in Him become a new creation, are made those who are “righteous” in the sight of God. These new creations are given a new nature, they are the righteousness of God, they now conform to what is right, they now measure up to God’s standard, and do so because the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed to them. They now can stand in His holy place because they have been given clean hands and pure hearts, they have been made righteous, and God has done so in order that they would live righteously, that they would live their lives with clean hands and pure hearts.

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