“…That we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
We have a wonderful life in Christ. The Christian life does not begin at death, but at conversion and the Bible describes this new life in grand terms, as life in abundance, as peace that passes all understanding, as joy unfathomable, and as the righteousness of God becoming our reality in life.
Two principles of our life in Christ are inseparable dimensions of our spiritual development: substitution and identification. Substitution represents for us the death of Christ for our sins, or His identification with us. Identification, on the other hand, represents for us our identity with Christ. The first is instantaneous and once for all: “He made him who knew no sin to become sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21a). The second is gradual and a matter of lifelong development: “That we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21b). He identified with us at the cross; we must identify with Him to experience the deeper Christian life.
When you trusted in Christ you made a simple decision because the facts were laid out for you and the complexities were done away with by the Holy Spirit. He opened your mind to understand and moved your heart to believe and in the miraculous moment of conversion you trusted in Him. Your eternity was changed and your reality was altered by the power of God. But this was possible because Christ took your place on the cross, He identified with you, took all your sins upon Himself, died literally in your place. He did not die in sympathy for your condition, but in your stead, and that is a significant difference.
I believe quite often we imagine that Christ was merely sympathetic to our sin problem, but Christ’s sacrifice was not the act of a merely sympathetic observer. He is not like a friend who hears we have a problem, that we are about to face the unpleasant result of our irresponsible actions and merely feels sorry for us. He is like the friend who knows what we need and what we owe and stands in our stead, in our place, and takes the penalty and pays the debt.
It is important to grasp this because it also lays the foundational understanding for how we identify with Christ. As He took our sins upon Himself, so we take His righteousness upon ourselves. Just as Christ took all our filth upon Himself, so He has purchased for us the privilege of taking all of His holiness into ourselves. He cried on the cross, “My God, My God, why has thou forsake me!?” and in the last sayings of Christ from the cross, this seems to serve as the center piece of the drama of our Lord’s suffering. Certainly there was some depth of the cross experience that only God the Father and God the Son could understand in full, yet we are not entirely excluded from understanding. We are invited to grasp the point of His identification with us in our sin.
The Son had never been separated from the Father for even an instant in the eternity before the creation of the world. But on the cross, as He became sin for us, and as the Father turned His face away from the Son, something deep and profound, evoking from the Son great emotion, as He whose heart had always been pristine coated Himself with the moral filth of the world. Still in studying the cross, I am moved by the depth of God’s love for us. The words, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son,” are so often said that we easily forget the depth of this sacrifice.
But there is something else to consider here. Just as unfitting as it was for the Son to bathe Himself with our sinfulness, it is every bit as unfitting for us to touch the glory and righteousness of God. We also register some significant disturbance, even shock and amazement as we begin to realize the bounty of God’s blessings to us. So, rather than the agony, we have the privilege of saying, My God, My God, why have you chosen to bless me so!?
We can be forgiven a bit for the slowness of our minds to believe this truth, but it is emphasized in Scripture repeatedly.
Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.
Philippians 1:21: For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Ephesians 4:23-24: …to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Romans 3:21-22: But now a righteousness from God apart from the law, has been made known … This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Romans 6:11: Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus
2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Can we come to any other conclusion, in reading these passages, but that there is a true great wealth of spiritual blessings in Christ for whoever will grasp this truth and cling to it? Faith is the vehicle we will need to use to receive this, so the matter is whether we will accept what God promises.
There is no place for pride or boasting in this, for humility and gratitude are the attitudes that God requires for us to progress in our spiritual life. We only can enjoy His life as we identify with His death, and this is the secret of identification. Just as Christ was crucified and resurrected, so we, as Paul eloquently stated in Galatians 2:20, are crucified with Him but yet, like Christ, we live. We count ourselves dead, crucified with Him, but alive from the grave.
The King left the throne room of heaven to come to earth and identify with the lowest of the fallen race of Adam, to die in our place. He now invites us to leave the defeat of sin, to leave the moral and spiritual slums of our fallen race and to go back with Him into the palace. We will be there after death, yes, but we can be there in part today through faith, through identifying with Him.
The Bible describes the act of identifying with Christ in the graphic term of death. Christ spoke of it as taking up your cross and following after Him. It is the attitude that puts aside all claims on your own life, that releases it entirely and unreservedly into the hands of God, and that repents of sin and trusts in God and in God’s cleansing power in Christ. This is the life of faith, the life of a surrendered heart, the life that accepts one’s spiritual poverty, that mourns for one’s own moral failings, but finds the rule, peace, and very life of God in the process. If we will meet Him as He said we should, if we fulfill His requirements, if we will but trust in His word, then we enter into enjoying what we already have in Christ.
How sad it is for people for whom Christ has died to never hear of His sacrifice, or to hear and not believe. Christ identified fully with our spiritual poverty, He took the filth of our sins upon Himself, He paid the price in full.
But isn’t it also sad for those who have never heard that they can by identifying with Christ’s death also identify with Christ’s life, who have never realized that this was the other purpose of Christ’s coming?
Chrysostom said of St Lucian, that when asked of his persecutors what was his country, said, “I am a Christian.” And when asked what was his family, said, “I am a Christian.” And when asked what was his occupation said, “I am a Christian.” For him Christ was his country, his family, and his occupation. This is the hope to which we are called and we can live in this hope daily through faith. What sins we commit daily we should confess and forsake, but we should also claim through faith the deeper life of fullness and joy in Christ that is ours through Him.
Lord Jesus, Thank You for the free gift of salvation, that You identified with us and took our sins upon Yourself, that we might receive Your life with in us. Lord, let us have the full measure of what You desire to give us. Restore to us the hope that is in You. Amen.