The person who experiences genuine conversion of heart through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit will by definition become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and thereby ceases to view the things of this world in carnal terms. We throw away the “old man” when we abandon our former sinful lifestyles (Ephesians 4:24). All of this takes place as a direct consequence of the Holy Spirit indwelling Himself in us.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, the word “reconcile” describes resolving hostility between two enemy parties. It involves a change of heart and mind that only God can accomplish on our behalf through the propitiatory work of Christ (Romans 5:9-10).
The Lord has appointed all members of His church to function as His representatives on earth by entrusting to us the “ministry of reconciliation,” which is the preaching of the gospel. It is the proclamation of the good news that the Son of God has forever put away sin through His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. He is by no means an ordinary man, but is God in the flesh.
To not impute sin against us means that God has pardoned us (Romans 4:4-7; 2 Corinthians 5:19). The present tense verbs found in 2 Corinthians 5:19 clearly denote continuous action (1 John 1:9). “The ministry of reconciliation” consists of the “ambassadors for Christ,” which are all the people who have been truly born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a firmly established principle of Scripture that God does the reconciling work, not us (v. 18). Therefore, the text of 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 reinforces the concept of justification by faith alone.
The text being discussed at hand reveals three aspects of imputed righteousness, which are a.) God imputes not our iniquity, b.) sin is imputed to Christ, and c.) His foreign righteousness is imputed to our account. Moreover, it is important to highlight the symmetrical correspondence of the wording found in verses nineteen and twenty-one: “…not counting their trespasses against them…he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
In other words, the spotless Lamb of God was “made sin” (our sins are not imputed against us), and His righteousness (the righteousness of God) was credited to us. Christ is our merciful substitute, in the same manner that the Apostle Paul desired that any of Onesimus’ (Philemon’s runaway slave) possible wrongdoings be charged against him instead (Philemon 18). From the perspective of justification, this text tells us that our righteousness is based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-25). From the viewpoint of sanctification, His righteousness is applied to us daily.