What does 2 Corinthians 5:21 mean?
ESV: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
NIV: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
NASB: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
CSB: He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
NLT: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
KJV: For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
NKJV: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Verse Commentary:
Paul puts even more clearly the central message of the gospel. This is the same teaching he had delivered to the Corinthians and to many other people around the world. This verse may be the most concise presentation of the gospel in all of Scripture.

God acted for our sake. That means God acted out of His love, to make it possible to remove the separation between us and Him: our sin. To accomplish this, God made Christ, who had never sinned during His life on earth in any way, to become our sin. Jesus' death, then, paid the price for our sin, removing our guilt and removing the obstacle between us and God. Instead of "being sin" ourselves, those who come to God through faith in Christ are given credit for Christ's righteous, sinless life. We "become God's righteousness" and are reconciled in our relationship with Him.

In short, by His gift of grace and through our faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9), God receives Christ's death as payment for our sin and gives us credit for Christ's righteousness in return. That's what it means to be "in Christ."
Verse Context:
Second Corinthians 5:11–21 describes an appeal to those in Corinth who know Paul. It's important they understand he is not crazy for continuing to preach the gospel, even though it leads to so much suffering for him. Christ's love compels Paul to continue to tell all people that they be reconciled to God through faith in Christ, just as he was. In Christ, God is not counting people's sins against them, but instead giving them credit for Christ's righteous life. As Christ's ambassador, Paul begged all people to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ.
Chapter Summary:
Why does Paul endure so much suffering for preaching about Christ? He continues here his discussion of eternity, comparing our earthly bodies to living in a tent. Paul would rather live in the eternal body God has prepared for those who trust in Christ, free from the groaning and burden that afflicts everyone here. With that to look forward to, he preaches with courage that all in Christ are new creations. In Christ, God is reconciling people to Himself, not counting their sin against them. Paul implores everyone to be reconciled to God in this way through faith in Christ.
Chapter Context:
Second Corinthians 5 follows Paul's confident declarations in the previous chapter. His suffering, though severe, is only a light, momentary affliction preparing him for eternal glory beyond all comparison. He would rather occupy his eternal body, which gives him the courage to continue his mission to preach the gospel that God is reconciling people to Himself, forgiving their sin, through faith in Christ. Those in Christ become a new creation. He concludes by imploring all to be reconciled to God, which he continues to do in the following chapter.
Book Summary:
Second Corinthians returns to similar themes as those Paul mentioned in his first letter to this church. Paul is glad to hear that the church in Corinth has heeded his advice. At the same time, it is necessary for Paul to counter criticisms about his personality and legitimacy. Most of this text involves that subject. The fifth chapter, in contrast, contains comforting words which Christians have quoted often in times of hardship. Paul also details his expectations that the church in Corinth will make good on their promise to contribute to the needs of suffering believers in Jerusalem.
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