The Stupefying Transaction

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Authentic Ministry 13/Second Corinthians

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When the gospel is stated in its bare outlines, it is the kind of thing that takes the breath away. It leaves us stupefied. If we hear the preacher declaring the unvarnished truth, we look heavenward in amazement. You can’t be serious. We look at the preacher closely to see if he is showing signs of running a fever. How can these things be? But in the cross, that moment of glorious exchange, an exchange of sin and righteousness, we see that wisdom of God is terrifying in its mere goodness.

But when I say “exchange,” or use the word “transaction,” do not think for a moment that in salvation God does His part while we do ours. No. In the moment that counts, the entire transaction is conducted by God alone. This is all of grace.

The Text

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:14–6:2).

Summary of the Text

We are bound by the love of Christ because of a determination we have settled upon—which is that if one died for all, then all have died (v. 14). And the reason He died for all was so that they could stop living toward themselves, but rather toward the one who died for them and rose again (v. 15). This is why we don’t look at anyone from an earthly vantage point alone anymore—we used to know Christ on that level, but not anymore (v. 16). If someone is in Christ, absolutely everything is transformed—new for old (v. 17). This is a new world, a new creation. It is all from God, who reconciled us in Christ, and then gave us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). That is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, refusing to impute their trespasses to them, and giving us the charge to tell them that this is now the case (v. 19). So we are now ambassadors, as though God Himself were speaking through us—be reconciled to God (v. 20). And so we come to one of the weightiest verses in the entire Scriptures. For God made the sinless one to be sin for us, so that He could reckon us, the sinful ones, to be the righteousness of God in Him (v. 21). So then, this is the basis of our gospel appeal. As co-workers of God, we plead with sinners not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1). Paul then states the invitation, using the words of the LXX, quoting Is. 49:9. God says that He has heard us in the time accepted, and has comforted us in the day of salvation—and that day of salvation is now (v. 2). God always promises salvation today—we have no guaranteed tomorrow.

Through New Eyes

If we know the gospel, then we have to look at the whole world differently. Paul absolutely refused to look at anyone in the old way anymore, and this was because he could not look at Christ in the old way anymore—now that Christ had risen. C.S. Lewis once put his finger on the direct implication of this:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations” (The Weight of Glory).

When you are dealing with someone who is being tedious, meditate on the glory that is coming for them, and which will inexorably swallow them up. How can you believe that so-and-so is boring, or tedious, or annoying? Don’t you believe Christ rose? And remember, such an exercise is the very best way for you to mortify the ways in which you are being tedious.

The Ground of Appeal

Note that God objectively reconciled the world to Himself through Christ. The thing is done. We are therefore not pleading with the world to get themselves reconciled to God. The plea is stronger than that. The world has been reconciled, and so therefore be reconciled. To be stiff-necked and rebellious is to be the recipients of God’s offered grace in vain (6:1). But the vanity is on our end, not the Lord’s—His purposes always come to pass. His decree can never fall to the ground, and so we are saying nothing against the fact that God’s sovereign decree settles the matter. But it is still a heartbreak when residents of a reconciled world insist on their own damnation.

Audacious Imputation

How does God do this? How is this tremendous thing accomplished? Look first at v. 14. One died for all, and therefore all were dead. To grasp this, we have to comprehend the true nature of Christ’s substitutionary death. There are two kinds of substitution. One you see in a basketball game, where one player goes in for another, and that second player goes to the bench. One in, and one out. That is one kind of substitution, and it is not the kind of substitution that Christ provides for us.

The second kind of substitution is covenantal or representative substitution. This happens when we elect a congressman, for example, and he goes to Washington to represent our interests. When he votes, we voted. When he is caught up in scandal, we are humiliated. When he does right, we are pleased and gratified. This is covenantal substitution, covenantal representation.

Christ died for all as the representative head of the new human race. Just as when Adam sinned, we sinned (because Adam was our federal or covenantal representative), so also when Christ died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose, we rose. When He ascended, we ascended. Because of all this, all our sins were imputed to Him. Because of all this, all His righteousness was imputed to us.

So Christ was never a sinner (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Jn. 3:5; cf. Rom. 5:19; 8:3; John 8:46), but He would knew no sin was made sin (through God’s imputation of our sin to Him). He was never a sinner, but He was made sin, and had the full experience of all our sins credited to His account, and during the course of those three hours, He bore the brunt of God’s holy wrath against that sin. This is why, I believe, the land was thrown into darkness, because no creature could look on how marred and twisted He had become. He had no form or comeliness that we should look on Him (Is. 53:2). He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted (Is. 53:4). And because of all of the diseased death that was reckoned to Him there, it became possible for life to reckoned in the opposite direction (v. 15)—for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us (v. 21). This is an audacious salvation.

But Do Not Miss the Invitation That Follows

So then, when should we act upon this truth? The answer is plain. We should act on it as soon as we hear about it. Look at the calendar. Is it today? Now is the moment. Now is the day of salvation. Look to Christ, and Christ will look toward you. If you peer into the darkness where Christ writhed, nailed to a gibbet, then God in His grace and kindness will shine the light of all Christ’s righteousness on you. Not only so, but He will shine that light full in your face. Rise, o sleeper, and Christ will shine on you (Eph. 5:14).

Think of it. Consider our sins. How many lies? How much cheating? How much corruption? How many murders? How much road rage? How much lying to parents? How many porn downloads? How much vanity? How much theft? How many acrimonious marriages? But the weight of those sins, while enormous, is still finite. And they were all placed on the shoulders of Christ as He sank down into death.

And He then rose from the dead for our justification. This means that the riches of His glorious grace, the grace of His unblemished righteousness, which is infinite, was placed on your shoulders. And what should you do with this? There is only one thing you may do with it, and you are commanded to do this. You are summoned to believe it. Look to Christ, and He is here for you in the gospel.

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1 year ago