The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: 5:14-21

2 Corinthians 5:14‑21  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The Apostle continues telling what underlay his service for Christ—the principles which indeed necessarily underlie true and intelligent service for the Heavenly one. He has said, in verse 11,
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men,” having in his soul a deep sense of the character of God’s judgment of sin, though without fear for himself, for it was his habit to walk in the light. But now he names a more compelling motive in his life of service than the thought of impending and overwhelming judgment upon the lost—the love of Christ, that matchless love that led God’s beloved and only Son from God’s fullest glory, down to Calvary’s depth of woe, there giving His life that sinners might live.
Verse 14: “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead.”
One indeed has died for all; He gave Himself a ransom for all, as it is said in 1 Timothy 2:66Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:6). That could not have been unless all was over with man. There was no possibility of improving the human race or any of its members, for all were spiritually in a state of death.
“You were dead in trespasses and sins.  ... But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved).” One has said,
“I do not know anything on the world’s side of Christ’s grave, except this, that they are all dead in sins.” And another,
“Thus the Apostle sees death come in for all, and judgment awaiting men as such; and because this was the fact for all, Christ died for all. Promises avail not, nor the kingdom; so complete is man’s ruin. Else a living Messiah would have sufficed. But no, only a Saviour that died could meet the case.”
Verse 15: “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.”
All were dead, and out of the number, some live by reason of Christ’s death; they have not been left in the state in which they were by nature. Henceforth they are to live to Him who died for them and rose again.
The young Christian will notice that the Scriptures never say, as some mistakenly do, that Christ died for the sins of all; He did not. We may notice the language of Hebrews 9:2828So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28):
“... righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe;” free to all for the taking, but only theirs who believe.
The value of the death of Christ is such that none need be lost; all may be saved by putting their trust in Him; but the solemn fact is that all do not come to Him; they do not want salvation since it can only be obtained in that way, God’s way.
Verse 16. “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.”
A great change has taken place in the believer’s life, though he may not realize its extent at first. Let us take note of this change as we see it in the Apostle Paul. Writing to the Philippians (chapter 3) he speaks of having no confidence in the flesh—in the old self, though in himself by nature, and apart from the work of God in his soul, there had been much to boast of. But, he says,
“What things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ.”
Worldly honor, riches, all that the world esteems highly, now meant nothing, and less than nothing to him. To these Corinthians he has said (chapter 4, verse 5),
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
“Christ after the flesh” (verse 16) refers to Himself as living on the earth. He might have taken the place that was His, of being Israel’s Messiah, but He has passed through death; the world has never seen Him since He died on the cross. Another scene has claimed Him, and if Paul had ever known Him as in connection with the present scene, in whom all the promises centered, henceforth in that way he knew Him no more. As now known, He was the one who died for him, and rose again.
Verses 17, 18. “So if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new, and all things are of the God who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and given to us the ministry of that reconciliation” (JND).
We, believers, are in Christ, are part of a new creation; the world we have left behind us, is in a state of death in God’s sight. For us, the old things to which we were attached have passed away; all things have become new and all of God, the God who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ.
How wonderfully, and how completely, God has provided for His children, even for the feeblest and the least intelligent of them. And we see that all this is ours now, before we reach our heavenly home. May we know, and desire to know yet more, in a practical way the place we have been brought into through God’s grace.
Verse 19. “How that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their offenses; and putting in us the word of that reconciliation” (JND).
A ministry of reconciliation had been given to Paul to make known. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, that world from its beginning had turned a deaf ear to His messengers, and at length, had taken His Son and crucified Him. What marvelous condescension, what unexampled favor to those that were rebels at heart and in action. Further, He was not reckoning to them their offenses. The proclamation was of mercy, where judgment was due.
Verses 20, 21. “We are ambassadors therefore for Christ, God as it were beseeching by us, we intreat for Christ, Be reconciled. Him who knew not sin He has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him” (JND).
The Apostle was then Christ’s ambassador in the world, as the Lord had said of him at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:1515But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: (Acts 9:15)):
“He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
As no other man, Paul was the ambassador of his Master. God, as it were, beseeching by him, he intreated for Christ, Be reconciled.
But wonderful as God’s grace has been seen to be in the verses we have been reading, a greater depth than this is revealed in verse 21:
“Him who knew not sin, He has made sin for us,” laying for us His unsparing judgment of sin on Him. So we read in the prophetic statement of Isaiah 53:66All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6),
“The Lord (Jehovah) hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Without this there is no salvation). And more, in the purposes of divine grace: “that we might become God’s righteousness in Him.”
It is only here in this passage that believers are said to become righteousness of God in Christ. This is seen first in Christ in virtue of His work risen, ascended, glorified; and now in us as associated with Him. Marvelous, God’s grace is; who can measure it? Who tell its worth?