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This question arises from 2 Corinthians 5:21.  

2 Cor 5:21  For he hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…

Understand that all well-respected and widely-accepted translations (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV) say that Jesus was made to be sin.  They do not say that He became sin.  And yet, we often hear pastors and Bible teachers say, “Jesus became sin.”  Is there a difference between the two phrases? 

I suggest that while “became sin” is not technically wrong, it is often misunderstood.  Plus, it’s always best to quote a Bible teaching as it is presented in the Bible.

Too often, when someone hears, “Jesus became sin,” they think, “He became like me.”  And He did not.  We are sinners.  Jesus never sinned.  He never became sin in Himself. We need to understand this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible teaches.  

Jesus Took Our Sin Upon Himself

The verse says that when Jesus was made “to be sin,”  it was “for us.” 

2 Cor 5:21  For he hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…

“For us” is often omitted when this verse is quoted, but it should never be left out.  “For us” indicates that our sins were laid upon Jesus, just as Isaiah prophesied:

Isa 53:12  … He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus bore our sins on the cross. He didn’t become our sins.  Peter put it this way:  

1 Pet 2:24  Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed.

Again, Jesus “bore” our sins.  He did not become sin, in the sense that it changed Him in any way. 

In like manner, under the Old Covenant, when the priest laid his hands upon the sacrificial animal, he symbolically laid the sins of the person making the sacrifice upon the animal. The animal didn’t become sin, and the sins were not the animal’s sins.  But the animal did bear the sins, and shed its blood to pay for them.

We must remember that Jesus did not become like us, sinners with sin.  On the cross, He was righteous, with OUR sin. He was, and is, and always will be perfectly righteous. In no way was Jesus “stained” by our sin.  For had that happened, His blood would not have been pure, and His atonement would not have been sufficient to pay for our sins.  

Therefore, understand the verse clearly and remember to quote it biblically, “Jesus was made to be sin for us.”  

Fuller Understanding in the Rest of the Verse

The verse goes on to say:  ….that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

In its entirety, the verse teaches a doctrine called “Double Imputation.”  It declares that our sins were imputed to Jesus (credited to or put upon Him) when He hung on the cross. 

We know that when Jesus’ blood was shed and He paid for the sins of the world.  We know that when we are saved, we are washed clean by His blood (Rev 1:5).  And we know that we are then “made the righteousness of God in Him.”   Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us.  It is credited to our accounts. Or we could say, a white robe of righteousness is put upon us, and we bear the righteousness of Christ, just as He bore our sins.

<<Read: The Gift of Salvation: Justification & Imputation (Imputed Righteousness)>>

By Christ’s righteousness, we stand positionally perfect and pure in God’s eyes.  Please take note: that is positionally perfect, but it’s not practically perfect.  Practically, meaning in everyday life, we continue to sin. And we must repent and be washed clean for our communion with God (Read: 1 John 1:9 What is the Christian “Bar of Soap?”)  

Always Distinguish Between Positional and Practical

Positionally we are perfect.  That is our union with God through Christ.  We have been washed in Christ’s blood (Rev 1:5) of all our sins — past, present, and future — and we are positionally clean. 

Practically we are imperfect. We continue to sin.  And while that does not affect our union with God, it does affect our communion with Him.  So we repent and are cleansed.  Then we trust the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us to be overcomers.

A Clear Understanding

Second Corinthians 5:21 is translated very differently in the Contemporary English Version or CEV, published by the American Bible Society in 1991.  While I am not commending this translation because it strays too far from the original language words, but it does give a good understanding of the verse.

(CEV)  Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.

It’s Very Simple

Our sins were laid upon Jesus.  He took them and bore them on the cross and shed His blood to pay for them.  When we come to Him in faith, He washes us clean by His blood, and we now bear His righteousness as we carry our crosses daily.

Luke 9:23  Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Tell everyone about our wonderful Saviour, and let His light shine through you in the increasing darkness of our world.  



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There is much to be learned from those who have gone before us in the faith.  Check out our Cloud of Witnesses category that features the words of departed saints who are now with the Lord in glory.  Their words equip and encourage us even to this day.  Take a few minutes to hear...

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