Romans 4:1-3 "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Most everyone today has had to use credit cards to make purchases. The idea of a credit card is simple: one has pre-approved funds provided by the credit card company that includes a monthly interest rate. When you or I go into a store or restaurant, the card can be used to pay for whatever item we choose. The store recognizes the card and accepts the payment made from it. The money is not the cardholder's money, but the credit card company's. Each month a bill is sent with the appropriate interest charges. Whenever one slides their card through a machine (or inserts it into a "chip-reader" slot), the transaction is complete and the words "card approved" will appear, telling the merchant and the customer that everything is in order. The process is all too familiar.
Did you know that there is a credit card spoken of in the Bible? We could call this credit card "The Heavenly Credit Card". This special card's balance was pre-approved by God the Father, paid for in full by the Son and is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 4 we find the Apostle Paul writes about this "Heavenly Credit Card" by referring to it by another name: "justification".
In past posts we have explored the doctrine of justification by faith. In the Book of Romans, justification has certain legal meanings attached to it - referring to declaring the sinner "not guilty" at saving faith. There is another dimension to this marvelous truth of justification - in that, it is also used with reference to the world of commerce and banking. Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
Thus, the idea of the sinner being a "debtor" to a Holy righteous God gives further detail in one's overall understanding of justification. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 defines justification along the lines of being both a legal and financial transaction of the spiritual sort: "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."
Heaven's Credit Card is Justification by Faith
If we were to summarize what today's post is all about, it would be the following: when God credits forgiveness of sin and Christ’s righteousness at saving faith, such Heavenly crediting is called “justification by faith”. Today’s post will clarify for you the source, reception and guarantee of this transaction in justification by faith.
So, how is justification by faith like a heavenly credit card?
Source of Heavenly Credit: Christ Alone. Romans 4:1-3
By what source or grounds does God justify believing sinners? Whenever we explore the wider context of Romans, we find the answer: Christ alone. We read for example in Romans 3:23-24 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." In previous posts, we explored how and why the Apostle Paul used the Old Testament patriarch Abraham to illustrate this central truth of justification. How was it that Abraham was justified by faith before a Holy God? If we can think of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as a Divine credit card machine, the heavenly credit card of "justification" had to be slid through Calvary to pay the bill of debt accrued by sinners to Holy God.
If we look at the entire Old Testament era up to the cross, when can liken God's justification of people like Abraham as being placed on a huge I.O.U. Every instance of God forgiving believers in the Old Testament had attached a promissory note: "to be paid". At the cross, the credit card bill came due. Who would pay it? Christ would. Romans 3:25 summarizes: "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed."
So the Old Testament saints, like Abraham, were justified by faith in Christ just as much as New Testament saints are today.
Christ paid the bill for sinners not only in times past but also included future generations of those who by God's grace would respond in trust in Him. Romans 4:25 states - "He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." Romans 8:3-4 restates the power of justification by faith as grounded in Christ's accomplished work for believing sinners: "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
Thus the Heavenly credit card of justification is grounded in and based upon Christ alone. Great 19th century preacher C.H Spurgeon notes:
“He was cast into the prison of the grave until it had been certified that our liabilities were fully discharged, and ‘If Jesus ne’er had paid the debt He ne’er had been at freedom set.’”
So Paul is mentioning Abraham and then referring ultimately to us to remind us of from which basis justification by faith is administered: Christ alone. He is the grounds, the foundation or the basis of justification.
The reason why Christ alone is the ground for justification by faith
The righteousness conferred upon the sinner at salvation is not the sinner's righteousness, since they have none. The ability to be right with God neither derives from the Law of God: since all it can do is demand the sinner to be righteousness, and thus not supplying it. The only source for the necessary righteousness or grounds of acceptance before Holy God is Christ alone. Theologian Loraine Boettner explains on pages 300-301 of his "Studies in Theology":
"By that life of spotless perfection, then, Jesus acquired for His people a positive righteousness which is imputed (that is, credited) to them and which secures for them life in heaven. All that Christ has done and suffered is regarded as having been done and suffered by them. In Him they have fulfilled the law of perfect obedience, as also in Him they have been rescued from hell; and by His active obedience they are given entrance into heaven."
This is certainly exciting truth, isn't it? To know that Jesus Christ is the ground for Heavenly credit: justification. In Christ, the believing sinner is declared by God as "approved", "paid in full" and "purchased". In the next post, we will consider how the Heavenly credit is received: by faith alone.
More next time.....