The location of righteousness

Reconciliation... the manifestation of righteousness

Following on from yesterday’s post where God and Jesus are one, they are kenotic, self-emptying; Jesus never acts in a way that is ‘although’ he was God but because he was God, I am coming today with a quick look at the cross and one of the central passages that suggests that righteousness is ‘imputed’ to us (so central to Reformed theology).

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Lest one think I understand all this, let me return that I had feedback that the chapter on the cross in Humanising the Divine was the ‘most disappointing chapter’. Ah well!! So with that as background you now will have to take what I write seriously, pressing on…

  • Two locations: Jesus at the Cross, and ‘we’ in Jesus.
  • Two contrasts: ‘sin’ and ‘righteousness’.

I will try and hold those two in the forefront.

The wider passage is about the ministry of reconciliation given to Paul / the apostles / and I think by implication to the body of Christ. The message of reconciliation is based on God’s act in Christ – he was ‘in Christ’ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). There is no sense that at the cross God turned away from Jesus, forsook him, could not look on ‘sin’. He was present there, the cross is not about the separation of the Trinity but about an incredible expression of the unity of the Trinity. (And to push it home Jesus was not reconciling God to the world!)

I think to gain some understanding of what takes place at the cross it is helpful to quote the same writer (Paul) in one of his other letters, Romans 8:3,

by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.

Sin is condemned, has its final judgement at the cross. It is not that Jesus became ‘a sinner’, or that something was imputed to him (Reformation theology) and then on the other side something is imputed to us. Jesus is not condemned, sin is condemned.

Sin (singular – as a power, a dominating ruling force) is condemned at the cross, it is dealt with. As a result we can be released from that power (release being the root of forgiveness, and I do not think we should project from us to God our understanding of forgiveness… that he holds something against us until… another discussion). It is for this reason I think the ‘made to be sin’ is using the word ‘sin’ in the (not uncommon way) to mean ‘sin-offering’, a way the word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. I appreciate there is a lot of discussion around this, so this is not convincing to all. However…

Add in the second part of the verse, the part where we have the result of the cross, the contrast of ‘righteousness’ and ‘sin’. It does not say that we will understand righteousness, we will receive righteousness or that we will be declared righteous, with it being imputed to us, or something of that order. It says so that we might become (in him) the righteousness of God.

  • The location: ‘in him’.
  • The people: ‘we’.
  • The manifestation (not the status): righteousness.

The cross brought an end to the rule of sin, so that a new people could be formed. And here is the challenge. A new people where the righteousness of God could be made visible. God is righteous? How do we know that? Look here at these people! That is somewhat beyond imputation. And a most provocative challenge indeed. Talk of a high calling!

In contrast to this we declare that sin has been judged. How do we know? Look at the cross. The one who knew no sin, who was not ever under its power, became the location where it was judged.

  • He became the place where it was judged / the sin-offering.
  • So that there might be a place where righteousness is manifest.

What does that righteousness look like? Well at the heart of this passage is reconciliation, bringing together what has been divided. If righteousness is revealed then reconciliation will be there fruit. How can there be a people who carry out this work, that proclaim this message, that embody this message? There has to be a people who know that an old system (the domination of sin) has gone and that they know / see that there is a new creation, that something has appeared before their eyes that has totally changed the labels, indeed the labels have gone:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

Zoom – a new world opens

I have just come off a Zoom call to Singapore… (have you noticed how ‘zoom’ is now a word in our language to sit alongside others like ‘google’?). It was very enriching and I was paid one of the highest compliments, that being that I was apparently ‘so futuristic’. If only!! But it is something to live up to for sure. Coming off the zoom I thought again about Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. I will quote first in a new translation (ESV, a new but ‘old’ translation, with a tendency to overdo the (overdone) masculine pronouns when not necessary, nor accurate in today’s context, and ‘old’ because of the tendency to lean on comfortable concepts):

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 ESV, emphasis added).

‘He (sic) is a new creation’.

The NIV reads:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 NIV, emphasis added).

‘The new creation has come’.

Or to really impress the SBL Greek text:

ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις. τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά.

So that if anyone is in Christ, (a) new creation. The old (things) have passed away, behold the new (things) have come.

The passage is about sight and how we view people, starting with Christ himself. If we see him from a worldly point of view (for Paul the Jewish world view and ‘messiahship’, for us maybe the ‘king of our empire’) we can only go wrong from there. We can never see the world and certainly not others rightly. Hence seeing Jesus rightly means we can never see anyone (and anyone cannot be reduced to ‘believers’) through the fallen-human lens that categorises them. If however, we are seeing Jesus differently, and that is an evolving experience, then everything has changed. Crazily Paul suggests for such people the world as we think of it as existing has passed away. At the cross, God is not reconciled to the world, but vice versa. There was an alignment of the world back to God, to his way of doing things. This is so far out there that it is not surprising that translations make the verse personal, implying the extent of the conversion is that of becoming a new ‘creature’. If the whole world was being reconciled I am reconciled; if the whole world was being made new then I am made new. My personal experience is within the global.

What do we see at this time? In the days of a total antiChrist one-world government system Paul had crazy sight. Maybe we have thought of the great new things that God was doing when we fell to the floor, and the glory was being manifest… but the biblical assessment on that would be ‘ouch that is such small sight’. The Covid-19 virus might just help be a provocation to us to come to an awareness of what we see.

The universal work of God must have a global outworking. These next two years are enormous years for the alignments God is bringing about. There has to be reconciliations because that was the reconciling work of God on the cross that birthed (then) a whole new world. This morning in the zoom call there were some great resonances (though I am sure that they would not endorse all my perspectives… I hope they don’t as I am convinced that God doesn’t endorse all of them!); they reflected back to me in their words something so strong. ‘There are kingdom friendly people who are not believers; and there are Christians who are not kingdom friendly.’

It is time to see, and to see anew. If anyone is in Christ, not simply ‘in Christ’ through ticking the box, but in Christ experientially.

Oh yes… the gospel offends not because of who it excludes, but because of who it includes.