Thursday, March 2, 2017
How The Concept Of Imputed Righteousness Clarifies Justification By Faith
Romans 4:3 "For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
In our last post we had considered how Paul uses Abraham to illustrate the doctrine of justification by faith. The reader may had noticed the opening verse of today's post has containing "all-caps". The reason for this is due to Paul quoting from Genesis 15:6. As we noted in the last post, justification by faith alone is not just a New Testament teaching. This truth of God's declaration of the sinner's innocence at saving faith is taught in both Old and New Testaments. In today's post we are going to probe deeper into Romans 4 by noting how justification by faith works through a Biblical teaching called by theologians: "imputation" or "imputed righteousness". This concept will enable us to better understand what justification by faith is all about.
The connection between Romans 1-3 and Romans 4
When one studies the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, humanity is depicted having three crises that can only be addressed by Justification:
1. A spiritual crisis. Romans 1:18-2:3
2. A moral crisis. Romans 2:4-29
3. A relational crisis. Romans 3:1-31
With respect to mankind's spiritual crisis, the situation is one of being at enmity with God (Romans 1:18-31). The moral crisis involves being dead in sin and incapable of pleasing God by keeping the Law of God (Romans 2:1-29). By the time we arrive at Romans 3, the crisis is compounded by indicating how relationship-wise, fallen man is utterly bankrupt with Holy God and thus a debtor to His Law (Romans 3:1-20).
In short when you and I are born into this world, we are in the spiritual, moral and relational equivalent of a credit crisis. Unless our spiritual bank account is radically credited with righteousness, no amount of right living will balance out what is owed to God. Paul's key point in Romans 4 will be to illustrate God's solution to all of this by highlighting justification by faith as illustrated in the life of Abraham.
Abraham is used to illustrate the kind of righteousness that was credited to Him at the moment of saving faith.
So what type of moral and spiritual transaction occurs when once is "justified by faith"? Per Paul's argument and the Biblical teaching on justification by faith, God's righteousness, or to be more specific - Christ's righteousness, is transferred into the believing sinner's otherwise spiritually bankrupt moral bank account. This type of transfer is called "imputed righteousness" and lies at the heart of understanding Justification by faith. So we need to ask: what is "imputed" or "imputation" mean and how can it aid in shedding light on justification by faith?
Computers, Disputes, Reputations and Imputation
Perhaps the term "imputed" or "imputation" may be new to you. Like "imputation", other words in our English language have the same Latin root "putare" (peu-ta-ray) which means "work that is accomplished". I'm sure you have heard of a "computer". The word "computer" comes from two Latin words: a prefix "com", meaning "with, together" and its root "putare", meaning "work accomplished". Thus this blog that I am typing was accomplished by working together with a machine - i.e, a "computer".
Or how about a "reputation"? A reputation is what others are "repeating" (re) about the work your accomplished (putare). Everyone desires a good reputation.
Or perhaps you have gotten into a "dispute"? That is, you "disagreed" (dis) over what exactly was accomplished (putare). All these words derive from the same root word "putare", and are concerned about the nature of a given accomplished work.
Imputation means you get the credit for work you did not accomplish. So what about the work of salvation? How is Christ's life, death and resurrection transferred to you at the moment of saving faith? It is done by "imputation". That is, the "work accomplished" (putare) is done in your place by another (in) resulting in you getting the credit. When you go to a store and swipe your credit card, the cash register will display the message: "card accepted", issuing you the credit to purchase your item. The store "imputes" or "credits" you with the funds to buy the item, even though those funds had been previously secured by the credit card company.
How imputation links together Christ's life and work on the cross to the believing sinner in justification?
In order for sinners to be "credited" with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputation had to be at work at the cross. That is, my sin and life needed "credited" to Christ so that at saving faith, His perfect work and life could be credit to me. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: "He who knew no sin became sin for us". The believer's sin was "credited" or "imputed" to Jesus Christ on the cross. He who never sinned was treated by, "credited" by God as if He had done our sin. On the cross, Christ the "New Adam" (Romans 5:14) was treated like the "original Adam" who had sinned in Genesis 3. Why? The second part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains: "so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him".
So at the cross, my sin was "imputed to Christ", because God had made a decision to set His affection on me to rescue me, convict me of my sin, and position me to trust in Christ's life and saving work. The moment I did that, all of Christ's identity and work was "imputed" or "credited" to me. I call this God's Heavenly Credit Card of Justification. Unlike the credit cards we use, there is no bill that comes in the mail at the end of the month. God did this on the basis of His grace and love. Truly we can praise God for imputing our sins on Christ, because only then could His sinless life and accomplished work be imputed to us in justification!