What is the difference between putting on Christ in

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ

and becoming God's righteousness in

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

  • What I want to see them contrasted also. That is, learn the differences if there is any. Mar 19 '19 at 13:41
  • Why presume there is any difference? Perhaps it's merely two different ways of saying the same thing? Mar 26 '19 at 0:43

In response to the further request, to make more contrasts between the terms asked about, I would offer the following, but I desperately do NOT want to be appointed any 'points' because I have no interest in accruing such a non-existent idea! There is scope to say a bit more about justification, and that is all I wish to do. This is to supplement Mac's excellent answer, to give the person asking a bit more information to add to what has already been explained.

To give an illustration of what Mac said regarding the modern use of the word 'sanctification', here is a quote from John Stott:

I have been saved – in the past – from the penalty of sin – by a crucified Saviour. I am being saved – in the present – from the power of sin – by a living Saviour. I shall be saved – in the future – from the presence of sin – by a coming Saviour.

That idea is not entirely extra-biblical as there are, for example, the following scriptures regarding the three claims: A – Romans 8:24 B – 1 Corinthians 1:18 C – Romans 5:9. However, what Mac said is a better explanation than John Stott's more 'sound-bite' summary.

Now, regarding righteousness, here is Romans 1:17-18 - "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by FAITH FROM FIRST TO LAST [not works] just as it is written, 'The just shall live by FAITH'. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."

Romans 3:20 - "Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now the righteousness of God, without the law is manifested, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Even the righteousness of God, by faith of Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God has set forth; Jesus Christ is a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare HIS righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare at this time HIS righteousness..."

The point is that righteousness is a quality of God himself. We sinners have no righteousness. "There is no-one righteous, no, not even one" says both the OT and elsewhere in Romans. Any righteousness in God's sight is his own righteousness worked out in and through faith in Christ. That no man can boast - verse 27.

  • Many thanks @Anne for your kind and generous comments. I particularly appreciated the apt quote from John Stott, one of my favorite theologians. Do you recall the source of the quote - was it a book or an article that he wrote?
    – user25930
    Mar 26 '19 at 23:53
  • Alas, no, Mac, I don't have the original source; it was likely quoted in a sermon, with the quote on the AV screen. I collect quotes and always strive to get the original source, but there was none given for this one. I shall ask the minister,r and if he's still got it, I shall get back to you.
    – Anne
    Mar 27 '19 at 7:55
  • 2
    Got the source now! It's vintage Stott, taken from p.87 of his book, 'Why I Am a Christian,' (IVP, 2003) - which is something of a testimonial as to Stott's own spiritual story, and a wee bit of a riposte to Bertrand Russell's earlier work, 'Why I Am Not a Christian.'
    – Anne
    Mar 27 '19 at 9:47
  • Ahh! Well done. Many thanks for this.
    – user25930
    Mar 27 '19 at 9:48

This is tricky and delicate primarily because modern theology uses a conspicuous term in a way that is unbiblical but which expresses an idea that is still correct. Let me elaborate. The term is "sanctification" whose use in the Bible is different from that in much of modern theology.

Biblical sanctification is almost always presented as a past completed act so that believers are called "saints", that is, sanctified, meaning "separated to God" (W E Vine) or set apart for a special service to God. 1 Cor 1:30, 2 Thess 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2; and (b) the course of life befitting those so separated, 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7, Rom 6:19, 22, 1 Tim 2:15, Heb 12:14.

The cognate verb form, hagiazo, to sanctify or set apart, in the New Testament tells us that God’s sanctifying influence on the believer is via His Truth and Word (John 17:17, 19, Acts 20:32) by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18, 1 Cor 1:2, 2 Tim 2:21, Heb 10:10, 29 ) through the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16, 1 Cor 6:11). Note that these verbs are past tense, and discuss sanctification as a completed act (see also Heb 13:12).

Theological Sanctification In modern theology, the word “sanctification” is used in a quite different (extra-Biblical) sense of a growing into Christ, Christian development and character building. This is not to suggest that the idea is unbiblical, but rather that the Bible uses different terminology.

Therefore, what modern theology calls "sanctification", the Bible calls various other things such as

  • Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2, 3. see also 2 cor 7:1
  • But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Tim 6:11, 12.
  • we too may live a new life. Rom 6:4
  • offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:1, 2
  • in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:15, 16
  • just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col 2:6, 7.
  • you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 2 Peter 1:3, 4.
  • grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:17, 18

Thus, the NT constantly discusses becoming like Christ - a doctrine known as the "Imitation of Christ", 1 John 2:6, . John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2, John 15:13, Eph 5:2, John 16:33, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21, Rom 8:29, Matt 6:12, Eph 4:32, Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16, etc, etc.

In this light, Gal 3:27 and 2 Cor 5:21 are part of this central idea. The Pulpit commentary observes for Gal 3:27

Have put on Christ (Ξριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε); did put on Christ. In Romans 13:14 we find the imperative used, "Put ye on (ἐνδύσασθε) the Lord Jesus Christ." There the phrase has an ethical application, denoting the adoption of that whole system of habits which characterized the Lord Jesus, and presents in a more definite form that "putting on" of "the new man" which is insisted upon in Ephesians 4:24. This can hardly be its meaning here; rather it is to be regarded as a more determinate form of the notion of" being justified." The penitent convert, by that decisive action of his faith which by seeking "baptism into Christ" put forth his hand to lay hold of the righteousness which is by faith, became invested with this particular form of "righteousness," namely, that very acceptableness, in the sight of God, which shone in Christ himself. In that hour God "made him acceptable in the Beloved" (cf. Ephesians 1:6, ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ); endued this poor guilty creature with the loving-kindness with which he regarded his own Son.

Again, Ellicott observes for 2 Cor 5:21

That we might be made the righteousness of God in him.--Better, that we might become. The "righteousness of God," as in Romans 3:21-22, expresses not simply the righteousness which He gives, nor that which He requires, though neither of these meanings is excluded, but rather that which belongs to Him as His essential attribute. The thought of St. Paul is that, by our identification with Christ--first ideally and objectively, as far as God's action is concerned, and then actually and subjectively, by that act of will which he calls faith--we are made sharers in the divine righteousness. So, under like conditions, St. Peter speaks of believers as "made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

Contrast (?)

Here I want to add some material about the difference between the two texts; more specifically, about the phrase "δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ" (= righteousness of God, or possibly, justice of God, etc) is a phrase used mostly by Paul but also once by James and once by Peter. Here I will look only at the occurrences by Paul. It occurs in Rom 1:17, 3:5, 21, 22, 10:3, 2 Cor 5:21 - about six times. N T Wright has much to say about this ("What Saint Paul Really Said"). W E Vine observes (Expository Dictionary of NT Words under "Righteousness"):

"Righteousness of God" means essentially the same as His faithfulness, or truthfulness, that which is consistent with His own nature and promises.

While this absolutely true, it is also equally true we find some important characteristics revealed about this phrase:

  • Rom 1:17 - the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel and is accepted by faith
  • Rom 3:5 - our unrighteousness shows God's Righteousness more clearly (ie by contrast!)
  • Rom 3:21, 22 - righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law and it comes [to us] through faith/trust in God
  • Rom 10:3 - the Jews did not know the righteousness of God but tried to establish their own
  • 2 Cor 5:21 - in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.

What these show is quite significant - while the righteousness of God is an intrinsic part and characteristic of God, it is shared with sinful humans and we are to become the righteousness of God through faith and trust in Him, presumably by the mechanism of 2 Cor 3:18 and Heb 12:2, 3 - "beholding Christ", Fixing our eyes on Him", etc. This is repeated by Peter (2 Peter 1:1-4) who explicitly discusses "partaking of the divine nature". By this, he presumably means what Paul discusses - we take on the attributes and action of God by reflecting Jesus. That is a very similar meaning to Gal 3:27, "putting on Christ".

Note also, 2 Peter 1:1-4 almost links the two concepts of receiving "the righteousness of our God and saviour, Jesus Christ", with "partaking the divine nature".

  • The only suggestion I can make for an improvement to this answer would be to award it the full bounty!
    – Anne
    Mar 25 '19 at 20:08
  • At the request of the user, I will add some further information about the difference between the two texts.
    – user25930
    Mar 25 '19 at 21:22
  • 1
    The additional quote from Ellicott superbly makes the essential point that the righteousness in question is that quality of the Deity - He IS Righteousness, and that righteousness was demonstrated at Golgotha in how He dealt with sin. All who enter into that act of saving grace, by faith, have their sin dealt with righteously. Our proclamation of Christ, our demonstration of "putting on Christ" shows to an unrighteous world that God's righteousness is supremely superior to any feeble attempt at righteousness ourselves, so that no believers can boast. It is all of God. Bonus points to you!
    – Anne
    Mar 28 '19 at 8:41

"Putting on Christ" means you live as what Christ had done for you; as a priest, as a prohhet, and as a king.

"becoming God's righteousness" means Jesus' death have made us passed God's judgement.

But I can't get why you contrasted these two totally different phrases.

  • Welcome to the site. Re. your last sentence, the reason for the contrast is that one is something Christians do (putting on Christ - an on-going process) while the other is something that happens to us, in a forensic sense. God declares us righteous, but not due to anything we have done or deserve! Today, a lot of people mix the two things up. That's why Siju's question needs the in-depth analysis that Mac gave it. I trust you will, like me, learn a lot from this site!
    – Anne
    Mar 26 '19 at 12:59

Within the contexts, the two statements are saying the same thing. The difference lies in where Paul places the emphasis. Remember, both letters are written to those who are Christians.

John offers a succinct description of the Christian experience:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
(1 John 3:1-3) [ESV]

One is reborn as a child of God, but, just as a natural child is not born in their adult state, the child of God does not have their final appearance:

Rebirth--->Interim State--->Final State

Much of the instruction to Christians is about how to live while in this interim state. In his letter, John reminds Christians they are children of God who will (in the future) become as He is, but in the meantime, they must "purify" themselves. Obviously, no amount of purification will make the Christian like God as that is done when He returns. Yet the inability to be able complete the transformation does not excuse the Christian who has this hope from continuing to live accordingly. In other words, we are not yet what we will become, yet we must attempt to live as though we are.

Paul's letters to the Galatians and Corinthians are in response to different issues. The Galatians were accused of failing to continue their progress to become righteous before God; the Corinthians were being challenged to ignore their righteousness by reverting back to their "old self." Thus Paul says the same thing, but in two different ways. He tells the Corinthians to remember what they will become, a truth which the Galatians could easily misconstrue. Since the Judaizers were delivering a similar sounding message about circumcision, telling a Galatian they will become God's righteousness, is a message easily distorted: circumcision is just another step in the Christian walk.

On the other hand, telling the Corinthians they have "put on Christ" could easily be misconstrued as approving of or telling the Corinthians they are free to live however they want. So here Paul places the emphasis on the future; effectively reminding them their current actions continue to matter.

Both passages make the same points of rebirth into a final condition which also creates an interim "waiting period" during which one is to live as they will eventually become.

Typically, "put on," ἐνδύω, refers to "clothe one's self". One chooses what to wear; it is possible to wear the wrong clothes (Matthew 22:11) or to change clothes (Mark 15:20). Yet some choices have results bringing a permanent condition:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3)

The choice to "put on Christ" results is a new condition: one who was Jewish or Gentile or male or female is no longer: they are a new creation. Paul says the same in Corinthians:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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. (2 Corinthians 5)

Both passages communicate the same concept, giving a different emphasis because of the primary difference in the purpose of the message:

  • Galatians: To combat those who say otherwise, Paul urges the Galatians to remember who they are: their choice created the condition of being one with Christ.
  • Corinthians: Paul is reminding them their mission is the ministry of reconciliation and they need to act in a way which will bring others to make the same choice.

Paul wants the Galatians to look inward and realize there is nothing further they must put on to become like Christ. He wants the Corinthians to look outward and realize they must put off their old ways because they are ambassadors to those who need to become like Christ.


Not Much Overlap

Given that there is essentially no overlap of meaning between the two phrases "put on Christ" and "become the righteousness of God," I am somewhat perplexed what prompted the question in asking what the "difference" is between the phrases. In short, I don't know why you have chosen to tie these two verses together as you have in this question.

Now another answer here focuses on discussing sanctification,1 which to me is related to the idea of becoming the righteousness of God and to putting on Christ, but puts too much focus away from what these two particular verses are getting at individually (as neither verse directly refers to sanctification in context).

Galatians 3:27 "put on Christ"

The Greek word translated "put on" is ἐνεδύσασθε (aorist middle indicative of ἐνδύω) and is the word commonly used to refer to putting on a garment (i.e. getting dressed). So the statement in Gal 3:27 is that if one has been baptized into Christ, one has also "put on" Christ. There is a parallel of the two images with a different focus for each:

  • Baptism into Christ pictures more the immersion of the one with faith (v.26), such that the one immersed is hidden (like when one is immersed under water), and goes with the idea that identities such as Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female (v.28) are all irrelevant when it comes to inheritance in Christ (a common error today is to say these distinctions are meaningless all-together based off this verse, but that reads too much into it; being made an heir is what the focus of the passage is), for all who have faith are "one" in Christ (v.28) and thus "heirs" (v.29; detailed more then in the following verses in Gal 4:1-7).
  • Having put on Christ pictures more that which is being displayed by the one with faith (v.26), and this fits more with what follows in Gal 4:8ff, where Paul discusses one should not turn back to past things (v.9-11), but show forth Christ as Paul has (v.12-16), zealous for good (v.18), not under Law (v.21ff.)

All of that has little (though not nothing) to do with...

2 Corinthians 5:21 "become the righteousness of God"

In 2 Cor 5:21, the emphasis is on what was needed for a person to "become" righteous again (I say again, because Adam—and thus humanity—was originally created to be "like" God, Gen 1:26, and so by original design were to be righteous). Since no one other than Christ (1 Jn 2:1) is righteous (Rom 3:10) because of sin, Christ, the one "who knew no sin" is the solution as he was "made ... sin for us" (the verse in question, 2 Cor 5:21). This had to happen so that one "might [subjunctive, not guaranteed] become the righteousness of God in Him." How? By being individual reconciled to God according to the message Christ's ambassadors bring (2 Cor 5:20), which is a message of reconciliation committed to them (v.19b), which is about how God already has performed a reconciling act on behalf of the world in Christ (v.19a). Christ's work is the grounds upon which one might become righteous again.

When one believes, then righteousness is immediately accounted to them based on faith (Rom 4:5 et al.), but believers do not "become" righteous until they are "made righteous" again (Rom 5:19), which will not happen until the resurrection, when "we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" again (1 Cor 15:49, but see vv.42-48 also). Believers will be remade back to what God is like, purely righteous, all based in Christ's work.

Where this intersects at all with "put on Christ" is only in that, upon becoming the righteousness of God at the resurrection, that is when sanctification is complete, and a believer will always and only forevermore display Christ as they should.


So putting on Christ is a commitment to display Christ now to those viewing the one who has faith; becoming the righteousness of God is something God will do then when the resurrection comes having a spiritual body replacing the natural body, so that believers may eternally live "right" before God thereafter as designed.


1 I also believe that biblical sanctification is clearly stated as not yet a completed act. Being set apart to God is not a one time event, but something that is done (or not) with every decision one makes. Christ himself lived so, stating "for their sakes I sanctify [present tense] Myself, that they also may be sanctified [perfect passive participle] by the truth" (Jn 17:19).

Sanctification is part of the end goal. Passages that use the completed idea of sanctification are either (a) about such a time, such as when the inheritance is gained at that time sanctification is complete (Act 20:32, 26:18), or (b) referring to the group that it was already started in as if already completed (1 Cor 1:2, 6:11).

But it is a process occurring now, for there is a completion to still come (1 Thes 5:23), and the outworking of sanctification involves a conditional cleansing from dishonor (2 Tim 2:21), a work that God is performing in lives (the present tense is used of both the active role of God and the passive role of people in Heb 2:11). Hebrews 10:10 and 14 make clear that those who have "been sanctified" (v.10) by Christ's sacrifice are still yet "being sanctified" (v.14).

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