Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians


June 22, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians



               Lesson II.B.6.b: Paul’s Message. (5:16-21)


2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 (NKJV)

16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,

19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.

21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.






The heart of a believer has not been improved, but instead, he has been given a new heart by which he is brought by small steps to act upon new principles, by new rules, with new ends, and in new company. Just as in the original creation, he is the workmanship of God, who is constantly molding him in the image of His beloved Son, thus, it is said, “He (man) is created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Though there may be no visible outward changes, minor changes in his character and conduct may be observed. The man who formerly saw nothing about the Saviour that interested him, now loves Him more than anything. Whereas, the heart that never changes could have an attitude toward God which ranges from cold indifference to outright hatred, and God is justly offended with him. But there CAN be reconciliation, because our offended God has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him, because He knew we never would. He took the initiative and by the inspiration of God, the Scriptures were written, which are the word of reconciliation; and then he sent Jesus to us showing that peace has been made by the cross, and how we may have that peace. And though God has nothing to lose by our stubborn rejection of His Son and nothing to gain by the peace He offers, yet he beseeches sinners to lay aside their hate, and accept the salvation He offers. Christ knew no sin. He was made Sin; not a sinner, but Sin, a Sin-offering, a Sacrifice for sin. The purpose of all this was so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, and might be justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Why would anyone not want to be reconciled with God? This is the theme of our passage—reconciliation






16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.


Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh

The word “regard” is used here in the sense of “we know;” or “we form our opinion of;” “we judge;” “we are influenced by.” Our opinion of a man should be based upon something other than “according to the flesh.” The “flesh” being the person present and alive before one's eyes. There are two distinct persons in view here, Christ and mankind.


  1. We are no longer to regard Christ according to the flesh. Our perceptions and views of Him are changed. We no more regard Him according to the flesh; we no longer think of Him as the Messiah who was to come as an earthly prince and warrior; but we think of Him as a spiritual Saviour and Redeemer from sin. The idea is that his views of Him had been entirely changed; that from the moment of his conversion he had laid aside all his views of His being an earthly sovereign, and all his feelings that He was to be honored only because he supposed that He would have a higher rank than all the monarchs of the earth.
  2. We are to regard no one according to the flesh. We are to live in peace with all men, and do business with them; and yet, we are not to care for worldly and carnal things like those do who highly esteem a man's family, his country, his physique, social status, riches, and the like, and which men commonly dote upon and wear themselves out trying to obtain for themselves. For instance, the outward distinctions of Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, learned or unlearned, are lost sight of in the higher life of those who are made alive in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). To know a man “according to the flesh” is to know him by the outward accidents and circumstances of his life: his wealth, rank, culture, knowledge. Paul had ceased to judge men by those standards. With him the one question was whether the man was, by his own act and choice, claiming the place which the death of Christ had secured for him, and living in Him as a new creature. That is the point of view from which he now “knows,” or looks on, every man.


The doctrine which the apostle teaches here is that at conversion, the views are essentially changed, and that the converted man has an opinion of the Saviour entirely different from what he had before; his views in regard to His person, character, work, and loveliness will be entirely changed. He will see a beauty in His character which he never saw before. Before, he saw nothing in his character to be desired, or to render him lovely (see Isaiah 53:1-12); but at conversion the views are changed. He is seen to be the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely; as pure, and holy, and benevolent; as mighty, and great, and glorious; as infinitely benevolent; as lovely in his precepts, lovely in his life, lovely in his death, lovely in his resurrection, and as most glorious as he is seated on the right hand of God. He is seen to be a Saviour exactly adapted to the condition and needs of the soul; and the soul yields itself to him to be redeemed by him alone.


There is no change of view so marked and decided as that of the sinnerat his conversion in regard to the Lord Jesus Christ; and it is a clear proof that we have never been born again if our views in reference to Him have never undergone any change. “What think ye of Christ?” is a question the answer to which will determine any man's character, and demonstrate whether he is or is not a child of God.


Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh

Paul is saying that he has now renounced all mere earthly and human judgments; and here he implies that before his conversion, he looked on Christ as a "deceiver," or just after his conversion, when possibly he may only have partially known him as the Jewish Messiah that he knew Christ only in this fleshly way; but from now on he will no longer think of Him in that way. Paul’s view of the Messiah was the same as the Jewish nation. There can be no doubt that Paul, in common with his countrymen, had expected a Messiah who would be a magnificent earthly prince and conqueror, one who they supposed would be a worthy successor of David and Solomon. Paul had confidently expected the coming of such a prince. He expected no other. He had fixed his hopes on that Messiah. This is what is meant by the expression to “know Christ according to the flesh.” It does not mean that he had seen him in the flesh, but that he had formed, so to speak, fleshly views of him; such as the views held by people for their grand and magnificent monarchs and conquerors. He had had no correct views of his spiritual character, and of the pure and holy purposes for which he would come into the world.Though Paul said he had known Christ according to the flesh, it was not from the knowing that comes from sight, for we do not read that Paul saw Christat any time (see Acts 9:1-43), but when he saw him, it was by the hearing of the ear, when he spoke to him on the Damascus Road.


Probably this "knowing Christ after the flesh" is a rebuke to those members of the Christ party at Corinth who claimed they had a special relationship to Christ—“Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." (1Corinthians 1:12)—who may have boasted that they were superior to all others because they had personally seen or known Christ. Some of them had seen Jesus while He lived on earth.Paul regards Christ, not in the light of earthly relationships and conditions, but as the risen, glorified, eternal, universal Saviour. 

Yet now we know Him thus no longer

Christ can no longer be known in his mortal state, as He was before His death on the cross; now He is seated on His throne at His Father’s right hand. And our hope is not to see Him in the flesh, any more than it was Paul’s hope; for though such a sight and knowledge of him would be wonderful, yet a spiritual knowledge is much more desirable. There were many who knew him in the flesh, who neither enjoyed his spiritual presence here, nor will they be favored with his glorious presence hereafter. Moreover, we do not judge Him as we did before we had a spiritual knowledge of him, or as Paul and his countrymen did, by His outward circumstances, by His parentage and education, His poverty and afflictions, His company and conversation, that he could not be the Messiah, the Son of God, and therefore was worthy of death; we have quite different thoughts and comprehensions of him now, believing him to be the Christ of God, a spiritual Saviour and Redeemer, whose kingdom is not of this world. Paul and the New Testament believers had relinquished all their national prejudices, and former notions, concerning the Messiah, his kingdom, and people.


Paul had this advantage over the twelve, that when he was converted, he no longer “conferred with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:16), that is, as one born out of due time he had never known Christ except in His heavenly life. To the Twelve it was “expedient that Christ should go away” so that the Comforter would come, and so they might know Christ in the higher spiritual aspect and in His new life-giving power, and not merely "after the flesh," in the earthly aspect of Him. Compare these verses:

  • (Rom. 6:9-11) knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • (1Co 15:45) And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
  • (1Pe 3:18) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
  • (1Pe 4:1, 2) Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.


Doubtless Judaizing Christians at Corinth prided themselves on the mere fleshly—“Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast” (2Co 11:18)— advantage of their belonging to Israel, the nation of Christ, or on their having seen Him in the flesh, and therefore claimed superiority over others because of having a nearer connection with Him. Compare:

  • (2Co 5:12) For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart.
  • (2Co 10:7) Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's.


 Paul here shows that the true aim should be to know Him spiritually as new creatures—“and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2Co 5:15, 17)—and that outward relations towards Him profit nothing. Compare:

  • (Luke 18:19-21) So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.' "And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."
  • (John 16:7, 22) Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.



17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,”

Dear Christian friend, you are in Christ, for all that are loved by Him, betrothed to Him, chosen and preserved by Him, are in Him, united to Him, and one with Him; not in the same sense as the Father is in him, and the human nature is in him, but as husband and wife, and head and members are one: and there is a new being in Christ at conversion, when a man believes in Christ, and gives up himself to Him. Faith does not put a man into Christ, but makes him appear to be in Him: but such a person “is a new creature;” who understands that one is placed in Christ by a true profession of faith in Him.  And the realization is that whoever is in the kingdom or church of Christ, who professes himself to be a Christian, ought to be a new creature. There are those who are secretly in Christ, chosen by Him from the foundations of the world, though they are not yet new creatures, yet they shall be such sooner or later; and those who are in Him, and are converted persons, are a new "creation.”


He is a new creation

The expression “a new creation” is applied here by the apostle to those who are converted persons, and does not have anything to do with the outward improvements which a person’ can make to his life by manipulating his manners, actions, speech etc. But here he has in mind that which is a new creation of God, not man’s, within a converted person, an inward creative work of grace in which man is purely passive, as he was in his first creation.  And the result is that he is made a new creature, or a new man, in opposition to, and distinct from the old with its corrupt nature; and because it is something which is newly implanted in the soul, which was never there before; it is not a working upon, and an improvement of the old nature, but an implantation of new principles of grace and holiness. Here is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, new feet to walk, and new hands to work and act with; “He is a new creation.”


Old things have passed away:

The expression “passed away” means “to go out of existence.” It may be an unfortunate translation, because the old nature will remain as long as a man lives, but when a man dies it goes to the grave along with the body, and the spirit of a “saved person” goes to be with the Lord. As long as we live, the old nature will, on occasion, cause us to sin. But, in a sense it has “passed away,” for it is no longer the controlling influence in our lives. The old way of living, the old way of serving God for both Jews or Gentiles, the old legal righteousness, old companions and acquaintance are dropped; and all external things, such as riches, honors, learning, knowledge, former opinions of religion, are relinquished.


Behold, all things have become new

“Behold” is a word of exclamation and interjection meant to call our attention to something important; we might say, “Look!” or “See!” Paul really wants us to get it—there is a new way of life, both of faith and holiness; a new way of serving God through Christ by the Spirit, and from principles of grace; a new, another, and better righteousness is received and embraced; new companions are sought, and when found there is happy fellowship. New riches, honors, glory, a New Jerusalem, new heavens, and a new earth, are expected by new creatures: or the meaning conveyed here may be this; if any man is “in Christ,” he has entered into the kingdom of God, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). He has become a new creature, or has entered into a new creation or into a new world, whether he is a Jew or a Gentile; for with respect to the former state of either one, “old things have passed away.” Consider first the converted Jew—the whole Mosaic system is abolished; the former covenant is exhausted, and has vanished; the old ordinances of circumcision and the Passover are no more; the daily sacrifice has ceased, and all the other sacrifices are no longer required. Christ, the great sacrifice has been offered up; the priesthood of Aaron and the whole Law is obsolete; the observance of holy days, new moons and sabbaths, is over; the whole ceremonial law is at end; all the shadows of the Law are gone; and there is no more serving God in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit.


And what about the Gentile; he has turned from all the former idols he worshipped, and now he says, “What have I to do any more with idols? Or what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” All former sacrifices, superstitious rites and ceremonies, with which he worshipped them, are abandoned by him, along with all other heathenish customs, rules, and methods of conduct he had been used to: “behold, all things have become new.”


New ordinances are appointed for both the Jew and the Gentile which were never in use before, such as baptism and the Lord's supper; and there is a new way to approach God, opened by the blood of Christ into the holiest place of all, not by the means of slain beasts, which was the old way of the Jews, nor by petty gods, which was the old way of the Gentiles. And there is a new commandment of love for all the followers of the Lamb; and they are given another name by the Lord, a new name, which is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.



18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,


Now all things are of God

“All things,” refers, first of all, to the things he has been talking about; that is, the new creation which is fashioned by the Holy Spirit in those who are born again. And secondly, there are the influences by which Paul had been brought to a state where he was willing to forsake all, and to devote his life to the self-denying labors involved in the ministry of making the Saviour known to lost men. But “all things” makes the statement general and shows that he believes that not only these things were produced by God, but that all things were under His direction, and subject to His control. Nothing that Paul had done could be traced to his own persistence or power, but God was to be given credit for everything. Paul never forgot this great truth; and he never allowed himself to lose sight of it. It was in his view a central and glorious truth; and he kept its inspiration always before his mind and his heart. In the important statement which follows, therefore, about the ministry of reconciliation, he deeply feels that the whole plan, and all the success which it has attained, was to be traced not to his zeal, or faithfulness, or skill, but to the wisdom and power of God. This is the idea behind 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” God caused the seed sown to take root and spring up; and God blessed the irrigation of the tender plants as they sprung up, and caused them to grow. There is no life in the seed, nor is there any inherent power in the earth to make it grow. Only God, the Giver of all life, can quicken the germ in the seed, and make it live. Likewise, truth must be sown in the heart, but there is no power in the Word, unless the heart has been prepared for it by the Holy Spirit—and the Word cannot have an effect unless it is cultivated and watered by the same Spirit. Salvation is “all of God!”


Who has reconciled us to Himself

The word "us,” no doubt, refers to all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, regardless of their social standing, etc. They had all been brought into a state of reconciliation, or agreement with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. But, before they were for God, they were against God. They had violated His laws. They were his enemies. But by the means of the plan of salvation they had been brought into a state of agreement, or harmony, and were now united with Him in feeling and in purpose. Two people who have been alienated by prejudice, anger, jealousy, etc. are reconciled when the cause of the alienation is removed, on whichever side it may have existed, or on both sides, and when they lay aside their hostility they may once again become friends, and live together without alienation, prejudice, anger, jealousy, and strife. It’s the same way between God and man. There was sin, and then there was alienation.


Man was alienated from God. He had no love for Him. He disliked His rule and laws. He was unwilling to be controlled. He wanted to be left alone to do what he wanted to do. He was proud, vain, and self-confident. He was not pleased with the character of God, or with His claims, or His plans. And likewise, God was displeased with the pride, the sensuality, the rebellion, and the arrogance of man. He was displeased because man violated His Law, and rejected both Him and His regime. Now reconciliation could take place only when these causes of alienation could be laid aside, and when God and man could be brought together in harmony; when man could lay aside his love of sin, and be pardoned, and when, therefore, God could consistently treat him as a friend. We read in Romans 5:10: “We are brought to an agreement; to a state of friendship and union. We became his friends, laid aside our opposition, and embraced him as our friend and portion.” This means that there were obstacles existing on both sides to a reconciliation; and that these have been removed by the death of Christ; and that a reconciliation been affected. 


Reconciliation conveys the idea of producing a change so that one who is alienated would be brought to friendship. Of course, all the change which takes place must be on the part of man, for God will not change, and the purpose of the plan of reconciliation is to bring about a change in man which would in fact make him reconciled to God, and in agreement with Him. There were indeed obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God, but they did not arise from any unwillingness to be reconciled; from any reluctance to treat his creature as His friend; but they arose from the fact that man had sinned, and that God was just; that such is the perfection of God that He cannot treat the good and evil alike; and that, therefore, if He is going to  treat man as His friend, it was necessary that in some proper way He should maintain the honor of His Law, and show His hatred of sin, while securing the conversion and future obedience of the offender.


The plan of reconciliation is wonderful! By it God proposed to “patch up” his relationship through the atonement made by the Redeemer, making it consistent for Him to exercise the benevolence of His nature, and to pardon the offender. But God is not changed. The plan of reconciliation has made no change in His character. It has not made him a different being from what he was before. Many have a mistaken view of this; and people seem to suppose that God was originally stern, and unmerciful, and unfeeling, and that He has been made mild and forgiving by the atonement. But that is not the case. No change has been made in God; none needed to be made; none could be made. He was always mild, and merciful, and good; and the gift of a Savior and the plan of reconciliation is just an expression of His original willingness to pardon. When a father sees a child struggling in the stream, and in danger of drowning, the peril and the cries of the child make no change in the character of the father, but his love for the child is what causes him to plunge into the stream at the hazard of his own life to save him. So it is with God. His love for man, and his disposition to show mercy, was such that he would submit to any sacrifice, except that of truth and justice, in order to save him. Hence, He sent His only Son to die—not to change His own character; not to make Himself a different being from what He was, but in order to show His love and His readiness to forgive. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).


Through Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ would be both the channel and instrument of reconciliation. He was the One to whom the Father assigned the work of reconciliation. And he was abundantly qualified for this work, and was the only being that who has ever lived in this world who was qualified for it. Because:

  1. He was endowed with a divine and human nature—the nature of both of the parties involved in this issue—God and man.
  2. He was intimately acquainted with both the parties, and knew what needed to be done. He knew God the Father so well that he could say, “No man knoweth the Father but the Son,” (Matthew 11:27). And he knew man so well that it could be said of Him, He “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25). No one can be a mediator who is not acquainted with the feelings, views, desires, claims, or prejudices of both the parties involved.
  3. He was the friend of both parties. He loved God. No man ever doubted this, or had any reason to call it into question, and He always desired to secure all that God claimed, and of vindicating Him, and He never abandoned anything that God had a right to claim. And he loved man. He showed this throughout His life. He sought His welfare in every way possible, and gave Himself for Him. Yet no one is qualified to act the mediator's part who is not the common friend of both the parties at issue, and who will not seek the welfare, the right, or the honor of both.
  4. He was willing to suffer anything from either party in order to produce reconciliation. From the hand of God He was willing to endure all that He deemed to be necessary, in order to show His hatred of sin by His substitutionary sufferings, and to make an atonement; and from the hand of man He was willing to endure all the reproach, and torture, and scorn which could possibly be involved in the work of inducing man to be reconciled to God.
  5. He has removed all the obstacles which existed to a reconciliation. On the part of God, He has made it consistent for Him to pardon. He has made an atonement, so that God can be just while he justifies the sinner. He has maintained His truth, and justice, and secured the stability of His moral government while He admits offenders to His favor. And on the part of man, He, by the activity of His Spirit, overcomes the unwillingness of the sinner to be reconciled, humbles his pride, shows him his sin, changes his heart, subdues his hostility against God, and secures in fact a harmony of feeling and purpose between God and man, so that they shall be reconciled forever.


And has given us

To us, the apostles and our fellow-laborers.


The ministry of reconciliation

That is, of announcing to people the nature and the conditions of this plan of being reconciled. We have been appointed to make it known, and to implore people to accept it (see v. 20).



19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.


That is

This verse was designed by the Holy Spirit to further state the nature of the plan of reconciliation, and of the message with which they were entrusted. It contains a summary of the whole plan; and is one of those emphatic verses in which Paul compresses into a single sentence the substance of the whole plan of redemption.


That God was in Christ

That God was going to accomplish his purpose by Christ, or by means of Christ; by the endeavors, or mediatorship of Christ. Or it may mean that God was united with Christ, and manifested Himself through Him. Christ was the Facilitator by means of whom God planned to accomplish the great work of reconciliation.



Reconciling the world unto himself

“The world” is used here to stand for the human race generally, without regard for nation, age, race or status. The whole world was alienated from Him (for all have sinned), and he desired to have it reconciled. This is one incidental proof that God intended that the plan of salvation should be applicable to all people: “For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Co. 5:14). The phrase “for all,” obviously means for all mankind; for every man. This is an exceedingly important expression in regard to the extent of the atonement which the Lord Jesus made, and while it proves that his death was vicarious, that is, in the place of others, and for their sakes, it demonstrates also that the atonement was general, and had, in itself, no limitation, and no particular reference to any class or condition of people; and no particular applicability to one class more than to another. There was nothing in the nature of the atonement that limited it to any one class or condition; there was nothing in the design of it that made it, in itself, anymore applicable to one portion of mankind than to another; and the merits of that death were sufficient to save all.


It may also be observed that God wanted the world reconciled. Man did not seek it. He had no plan for it, he did not even desire it. He had no way to bring it about. It was the offended party, not the offending party, that sought to be reconciled; and this shows the strength of His love. It was love for enemies and alienated beings, and love shown to them by a most earnest desire to become their friend, and to be in agreement with them. “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).   


Not imputing their trespasses to them

Not charging them with their transgressions; rather, forgiving them, pardoning them. One definition for “impute” is “to attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously [vicariously=suffered in place of another]; ascribe as derived from another.” God has decided that the righteousness of Christ is to be imputed to all believers on the basis of His vicarious death. In Romans 4:3, it says “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited [imputed] to him for righteousness.” The idea here is that God did not charge them with their offences, but graciously provided a plan of pardon, and offered to forgive their sins on the conditions of the Gospel. The plan of reconciliation demonstrated that He was not of a mind to impute their sins to them, as He might have done, and to punish them with absolute severity for their crimes, but was more disposed to pardon and forgive.


Someone might ask this question, “If God was not disposed to charge a person with their own sins, but would prefer to pardon them, can we believe that He is disposed to charge them with the sin of another—that is, with the sin of Adam? In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “For just as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The teaching here is that Christ’s vicarious death was considered by God as sufficient punishment for all sins and all people, and this includes Adam’s sin. God is not disposed or inclined to charge people with their own transgressions, he has no pleasure in doing it; and therefore he has provided a plan by which they may be pardoned. At the same time it is true that unless their sins are pardoned, justice will charge or impute their sins to them, and will exact punishment to the uttermost.


And has committed to us the word of reconciliation

God has given us an assignment; for his ministers, it is the preaching of the atonement, and for the rest of us it is to witness to others of the benefits of salvation, through the lives we live. But here, he is speaking specifically to ministers, and the meaning is, that the office of making known the nature of this plan, and the conditions on which God was willing to be reconciled to man, had been committed to the ministers of the Gospel.



20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.


Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ

The term “ambassador” denotes “an authorized representative or messenger.” He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present. They are sent to make known the will of the sovereign, and to negotiate matters of commerce, of war, or of peace, and in general everything affecting the interests of the sovereign among the people to whom they are sent. We are the ambassadors whom Christ has sent to negotiate with people in regard to their reconciliation to God. Every Christian is authorized to do so, because we are his representatives here on earth; but ministers are His special ambassadors. We have a message to deliver—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—but we are not empowered to do anything more than explain or deliver it. We can’t make it go into their mind and heart, for it is up to the Holy Spirit to apply it to the heart; only the Spirit can take the Word of God and use it to create a child of God.


An ambassador is a privileged character, and is highly regarded in all countries, and has diplomatic immunity from the laws of those countries. He is bound implicitly to obey the instructions of his sovereign, and as far as possible to do only what the sovereign would do were he himself present. Ministers are ambassadors for Christ, since they are sent to do what he would do were he personally present. They are to make known, and to explain, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled to people. They are not to negotiate on any new terms, nor to change those which God has proposed, nor to follow their own plans or desires, but they are simply to urge, explain, state, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled. Of course they are to seek the honor of the sovereign who has sent them, and to seek to do only his will. They shouldn’t promote their own welfare; nor should they seek personal honor or reward; but they go to transact the business which the Son of God would engage in were he again personally on the earth. It follows that their office is one of great dignity, and great responsibility, and that respect should be showed them as the ambassadors of the King of kings.


As though God were pleading through us

Our message is to be regarded as the message of God. It is God who speaks. What we say to you is said in his name and on his authority, and should be received with the respect which is due to a message directly from God. The gospel message is God speaking to people through the ministry, and imploring them to be reconciled. This endows the message which the ministers of religion bear with infinite dignity and seriousness; and it makes it a fearful and awful thing to reject it.


We implore you on Christ's behalf

We plead with lost sinners for Christ and in place of Christ, for we are doing what He did when on earth, and what He would do if He was where we are.


Be reconciled to God

This is the heart of the message which the ministers of the Gospel carry to their fellow-men: “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us” (v. 19). It implies that man has something to do in this work. He is to be reconciled to God. He is to give up his opposition. He is to submit to the terms of mercy. All the change in this case is to be in him, for God cannot change. God has removed all the obstacles to reconciliation which existed on His part. He has done all that He will do, all that needed to be done, in order to make reconciliation as easy as possible. And now, all that remains is for man to lay aside his hostility, abandon his sins, embrace the terms of mercy, and become in fact reconciled to God. And the great objective of the ministers of reconciliation is to urge their fellow-men to act and become reconciled. They are to do it in the name of Christ. They are to do it as if Christ himself was present, and was himself urging them to respond to the message. They are to use the arguments which He would use; display the zeal which He would show; and present the motivations which He would present to induce a dying world to become in fact “reconciled to God.”



21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us

The intention of this very important verse is to provide the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the little word "for." There are plenty of other arguments Paul might have used that give strong reasons for doing so; but he chose to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us. It is the most effective of all the arguments, and the one that is most likely to prove successful. But, by no means is it improper or out of place to use every other means available to induce people to be reconciled to God. For instance, it is not wrong to appeal to their sense of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a life continually hostile to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell—“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. . .” (2 Corinthians 5:11)—to become His friends. In any case, the strongest argument, and that which is most capable of melting the soul, is the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our place. When all other appeals have failed this one is still able to produce the desired effect; and, this is in fact the argument by which the largest part of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition and to become reconciled to God.


There is so much to be said about the expression “To be sin” that we must take time to explain what it adds to the meaning of the verse. Actually, the words “to be” are not in the original. Literally, it is, “he has made him sin, or a sin-offering.” But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey concerning Christ? First, let’s consider what it does NOT mean:

  1. That he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can profess to believe this. The expression must be, therefore, in some sense, figurative or symbolic.
  2. That he was a sinner, because it is immediate said in this connection that he “knew no sin,” and it is said in the Holy Scripture that He was holy, harmless, and undefiled.
  3. That He was guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the Law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was truly guilty it would make no difference whether it was by his own fault or by imputation. A guilty being deserves to be punished; and where punishment is just, there can be no merit in sufferings. But all views which embrace the idea that the Holy Redeemer is a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are repugnant to the whole message of the Scriptures. There is no possible way in which the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of Christianity, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of divine approval. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is obviously a false view, and should be abandoned at once.


If the statement that he was made "sin" does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering—an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by Bible scholars; or it must be understood in the abstract, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. Both interpretations have many backers. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word "sin" is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. There is Hosea 4:8: “They eat up the sin of my people;" that is, the sin-offerings. (Also see Ezekiel 43:22Ezekiel 43:25Ezekiel 44:29Ezekiel 45:22-23; Ezekiel 45:25.)


In the great transaction that was completed on the cross our sin was placed on Christ by imputation in the same way in which His righteousness is placed on the born again believer by imputation. And He was nailed to the cross in our place and all the suffering he endured was on our behalf; the worst of it coming when the Father left Him alone, and He was heard to say, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). But finally, He was made a sin-offering for us; He suffered more than any man and He gave up his life. He said, “It is finished:” the great transaction was completed and God was satisfied with the price that was paid. The way was open to reconciliation. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, that is, subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper punishment for sin. Or you believe as I do that He was both “a sin offering,” and “God treated Him as if He was actually a sinner.” In any case, it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by vicarious sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Lock’s rendering of this verse gives clarity and expresses the true sense: “For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin.”


Who knew no sin

He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This is the idea expressed by Peter in 1 Peter 2:22; “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;” and in Hebrews 7:26, it is said He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been so, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence, the New Testament writers take great pains to keep this idea always before us, for the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation rests on this doctrine. The phrase “knew no sin,” is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates He is entirely and perfectly pure. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.


That we might become the righteousness of God in Him

This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as “divinely righteous.” It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, He was treated as if He were a sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured on our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and had never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase “righteousness of God,” there is a reference to the fact that this is His plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.


Those who become righteous, or are justified, are justified by His plan, and by a method which he has devised. Locke renders this: “that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God.” The idea is that we receive all our righteousness in the sight of God in and through a Redeemer. It is all to be traced to Him. This verse embodies the whole plan of salvation, and the uniqueness of the Christian religion. On the one hand, One who was perfectly innocent is treated as if he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which if he were guilty would be a proper punishment for sin, and He does it voluntarily and as a substitute for those who are truly guilty. And on the other hand, those who are guilty and who deserve to be punished, are treated (because of his vicarious sufferings) as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God's commendation and favor if he had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without substitution, there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on people to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given His only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used for why we should cease our opposition to Him, and become His friends.

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