For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed. (Romans 1:16–17)
We need righteousness to be acceptable to God. But we don’t have it. What we have is sin.
So, God has what we need and don’t deserve — righteousness; and we have what God hates and rejects — sin. What is God’s answer to this situation?
His answer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died in our place and bore our condemnation. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Whose flesh bore the condemnation? His. Whose sins were being condemned? Ours. This is the great exchange. Here it is again in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God lays our sins on Christ and punishes them in him. And in Christ’s obedient death, God fulfills and vindicates his righteousness and imputes (credits) it to us. Our sin on Christ; his righteousness on us.
We can hardly stress too much that Christ is God’s answer to our greatest problem. It is all owing to Christ.
You can’t love Christ too much. You can’t think about him too much, or thank him too much, or depend upon him too much. All our forgiveness, all our justification, all our righteousness is in Christ.
This is the gospel — the good news that our sins are laid on Christ and his righteousness is laid on us, and that this great exchange becomes ours not by works but by faith alone. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Here is the good news that lifts burdens and gives joy and makes strong.