“In Him” Part 3 – 2 Corinthians 5:21

In the previous two messages, we looked at three results of a Christian being “in Him.”

First, we are dead in Him (14-15). Since Jesus died for all, then all of us have died in Him. God now views every believer as having died on the cross with Him. We no longer deserve to die for our sins because we are dead in Him on the cross. Because of that, we ought to live for Him instead of ourselves.

Second, we are a new creation in Him (17). As a result of being in Him, we have become a new creation. Our old lifestyle has passed away and we have become a totally different person.

Third, we are reconciled to God in Him (18-20). In Christ God has reconciled us to Himself. Our sins are no longer held against us and we are viewed as friends instead of enemies. God now sends us out as ambassadors to the rest of the world, calling for them to be reconciled to Him.

But that is not all that we have in Him. Our final result is found in the last verse of the chapter.

4. We are righteous in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

How could we sinful people be considered righteous by God? We know our lack of righteousness and are well aware of God’s omniscience. Since He knows everything, how could God consider us to be righteous? Do you consider yourself to be righteous?

The Bible makes a clear difference between the righteous and the wicked. Consider a few examples from the Bible. Abraham considered his nephew Lot to be righteous despite his serious flaws (Gen. 18:23). God considered those who feared Him, meditated on Him, and served Him to be righteous (Mal. 3:16-18). John linked himself with those who were of God (the righteous) and not controlled by the wicked one (1 John 5:19). Finally, Jesus referred to those who did His will as the righteous and those who did not as wicked (Matt. 25:34-46). In these examples, those who are doing God’s will are considered righteous, while those who are not are considered wicked.

While these examples are true, they don’t explain how the various people became righteous. Were they considered righteous because of their good works? I find that hard to believe because of Ephesians 2:8-10 and Titus 3:5-6. Our right relationship to God is not a result of what we are naturally or what we have done by some point in our lives. Instead, the Bible makes it clear that we are guilty sinners (Rom. 3:9-20) who need to be born again (John 3:3-6), forgiven (1 John 1:8-10), and reconciled to God (Col. 1:21). On our own, we are not righteous but wicked people.

So how is it that a sinful person could somehow become a righteous person? Here is what happened. Knowing our sinfulness, God the Father planned an exchange between Jesus and ourselves. He caused the perfect Son of God to become sin for us despite the fact that He had never sinned. He also caused us to become righteous in Him. Because of that exchange, God makes a wicked person who is guilty of sin to be considered righteous in Jesus.

a. Because of us, Jesus became sin.

The first thing we must consider is our own sinfulness. If we don’t understand that, none of this will make sense. To many people today, sin is an old-fashioned term that doesn’t apply today. As a society, we have become enlightened and now consider terms such as sin to be worthless. As long as it is consensual, it isn’t sin. But this view of sin does not address the person whom we sin against—God. God defines what is sin and we don’t have a say in the matter.

1 John 3:4 – “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”

Sin is rebellion against God’s law. The Ten Commandments, nine of which are repeated in the New Testament, are a good example of what God’s Law says. God tells us to worship him exclusively, to honor his name, to honor our parents, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie, and not to covet. All of us have broken these commandments at some point in our thoughts, words, or actions. And because of this, God has decreed that we who have broken his laws deserve death. We are sinners who deserve to die for breaking God’s laws.

The second thing we must consider is Jesus’ lack of sin. If we don’t understand that, we won’t understand how He could help us. We know that God is holy and sinless. But when we consider that God became a man, we are a little confused. Could sinless God become a man and still be sinless? The short answer is yes. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that Jesus “knew no sin.” The word know “expresses knowledge gained by experience” (Rienecker 470). The Bible often uses the word “know” to describe the intimacy of marriage. A married couple knows each other intimately by experience. This same idea translates into this description of Jesus. He had no intimate knowledge of sin because He never participated in it. While we are intimately aware of sin, Jesus never has been nor will ever be acquainted with sin. He is sinless.

The third thing we must consider is what God did. If we can understand that, we will understand how we can be considered righteous. Our verse tells us that God made Jesus to be sin for us. We were the sinners who deserved to die. He was God the Son who had never experienced sin. God made Jesus to become sin for us. What does this mean?

I think this goes back to what John the Baptist said about Jesus. He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When the Old Testament believer brought a lamb to the altar to pay for his sins, that lamb became sin for him. The lamb took the punishment that the sinner deserved. In God’s eyes, the sinner’s sin and guilt was transferred to the lamb which had done nothing wrong.

This is what God did with Jesus. He brought Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, to pay for the sins of the world. On one side, we have all the people who have ever lived on this earth. They are vile, wretched, and rebellious. They are guilty sinners who are worthy of death. On the other side, we have God’s sinless Son, who became a man and never thought, said, or did anything wrong. There is no comparison between the two. What did God do? He transferred the sin of all the world from them to Jesus.

Why did God do all of this? The second half of the verse explains the results.

b. Because of Jesus, we can become righteous.

We can become righteous to God. The righteousness of God is a high standard. As humans we can place ourselves on a list that makes us look better than thieves, murderers, or adulterers. Perhaps a Gallup poll might find that we consider ourselves to be in the top 50% of people—not perfect but not as bad as some. But this verse says that we can be made the righteousness of God. What does that mean?

This statement does not mean that we are righteous. We have already seen that we are sinful people who have rebelled against God’s laws all of our lives. We are not naturally good. But what God did, by transferring our sin to Jesus, is that we can become righteous instead of wicked. Have you noticed the word might in the statement? It is a possibility. God made it possible. But how?

We must become righteous in Jesus. The final two words in the verse are the key. Our possibility of righteousness is found “in Him.” In God’s perfect plan, the sinless, righteous Son of God took our place. Our sins were transferred to Him and His righteousness to those who are in Him. God no longer looks at our sinfulness because it has been transferred to Jesus. Instead, He looks at Jesus’ righteousness that has been transferred to us. But… this righteousness is only for those who are in Him. How can a person be in Him?

God requires simple faith for a person to be in Him.

John 3:15 – “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 – “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:18 – “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
John 6:29 – “Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
John 6:40 – “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

What we see in the Scriptures is that being In Him is not based on the things that we do but by our faith in what Jesus has accomplished for us. We tend to want to do something in order to get a reward from God, but His plan is different.

Romans 4:5 – “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

God doesn’t ask us to become righteous. He makes us righteous when we place our faith in Jesus. At that point, as we are trusting in Him, we are “in Him” and considered to be righteous by God. He transfers the righteousness of God to all who believe.


Whenever a teacher has completed a section of material, he takes the time to test his students as to whether they have understood what was taught. Please allow me to ask you a few questions.

1. Do you deserve to be called righteous? The answer should be no. We are all sinners who are guilty of sin against God and who deserve a different description. We should be called the wicked because of our rebellion against God.

2. Does Jesus deserve to be called sinful? The answer should be no. Jesus never experienced sin or desired it. As the perfect Son of God, He lived His life on this earth and never sinned against God the Father.

3. What did God do to make sinners righteous? God the Father caused our sin to be transferred to Jesus who never sinned so that his righteousness could be transferred to all who believe.

4. How can you become righteous in Jesus? Sinful people can become righteous in Jesus by faith. When you believe what God did (He transferred our sin to Jesus and His righteousness to us), you instantly are made righteous by God.

The last question is the most important.

5. Have you become righteous in Him? This is something that only you and God know. If you have believed in Him, then you are righteous in God’s eyes. But if you have not believed, you are still considered to be sinful and deserving of judgment despite all that God has done for you. As God works in your heart, will you turn from your sin and believe in Him?


Hodge, Charles, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians, Carlisle: Banner of Truth, orig. 1857-1859, reprint 1974, pp. 508-27.

Lowery, David K., “2 Corinthians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 567-68.

Rienecker, Fritz and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1976, p. 470.

“What is the definition of sin?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1060 on 2/18/2023.

“γινώσκω” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/ginosko?page=3 on 2/18/2023.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email