For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin… (2 Corinthians 5:21). On one hand, of course, Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross was wholly undeserved. The only perfect man to ever live should not have been tortured and then executed as a criminal.
In a worship service in which I recently participated, we sang this beautiful hymn by Charles Wesley. I believe it was my first time to be acquainted with it and the words struck me powerfully. Too little thought is given, and too few messages and songs are devoted, to the marvelous and gospel-centering truth that salvation now and forever is found only in the substitution of Christ on the cross, for sinners.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Although there is of course more to the fullness of Christian teaching than the brief creed the apostle Paul shares here, this what comes “of first importance”; this is the heart of the Christian gospel, the essential truths that separate Christians from non-Christians.
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30). The phrase Jesus uses here on the cross expressed a business transaction completed: “paid in full.” At the heart of trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation is the confidence that nothing else needs to be added to the price he paid, in his death, for our salvation. Do you live in the reality of a fully-paid salvation each day?
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). At the heart of the gospel — at the heart of what happened on the cross to Jesus Christ — is substitution. It is Jesus taking the place, and therefore the punishment, of sinners who deserved God’s wrath. At the cross, Jesus got what we deserved. Isaiah 53:5 gives us this clear insight into Jesus’ death.
Imputation is the act of one person adding something to another person’s account (Genesis 15:6). As believers in Jesus Christ, we have this clear assurance in Scripture: at the cross, our sins were imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us. The imputation of sin, as we see in Romans 5:12-15, is the way that God made for us to be saved. Our sin was placed upon Jesus Christ, and his righteousness was given to us, in order that we be saved.