Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
A Glorious Imputation
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). I have the privilege of pastoring a wonderful congregation of believers. We are slowly working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have already answered the question, why the Gospel (see Rom. 1:18). We have thoroughly enmeshed ourselves in the goodness of God (see Rom. 2:4). Next we are coming to chapter three where Paul discusses a glorious imputation. Imputation is a legal term that is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. It appears some forty times in the New Testament, ten times in Romans, alone. The word means, “to set to one’s account.” For example, in Philemon 18 Paul admonishes Philemon to charge (impute) to his account any debts Onesimus may have incurred. Theologically speaking, there are three great imputations in Scripture. First of all, there is the imputation of Adam’s sin to me. “Through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Secondly, there is the imputation of my sin to Jesus. This happened at the Cross. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Finally, there is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to all those who believe. This is a glorious imputation that God brings about in the life of all believers—those who through faith believe the Gospel. It occurs at the very moment of salvation when God imputes to the sinner what is not actually his—the righteousness of God—“Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).
Paul describes this righteousness of God as that which is apart from the Law. In other words, the Law cannot save us. The Bible says through the Law all are accountable to God. Furthermore, it is through the Law we have the knowledge of sin. For this reason, at the final judgment the Law will close the mouth of the unbeliever (see Rom. 3:19-20). But thanks be to God for the glorious imputation of His righteousness. The Bible says the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel—“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). Both Romans 1:17 and 3:22 speak of this imputed righteousness as coming through faith in Jesus. This is the essence of God’s plan of salvation. It is a salvation that is offered “apart from the Law.” In other words, you can’t earn this salvation. It can only be obtained as a gift and it comes through faith in Jesus. Although this is the fulfillment of the New Covenant, this isn’t some new way of saving people but is in perfect agreement with God’s work in times past. This is what is meant by the phrase, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom. 3:21b). In other words, God has always been in the salvation by grace through faith business. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament through the faith of Abraham. In fact, Paul mentions this in the next chapter, “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). “Credited” here is that glorious imputation about which I write. And this imputation comes by way of Jesus: “But now apart form the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested” (Rom. 3:21a). It has been manifested in Jesus!
Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned.” All here would include you and me. It includes every person who has ever lived from Adam onward. The exception is, of course, Jesus—“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And it is this Jesus who, although “He knew no sin [He became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). We do not earn this righteousness by faith but we receive it through faith. Think about it. Because Adam sinned you and I are sinners—sorry, it doesn’t matter how good you might think you are because you are still a sinner by nature. But God has taken your sins and imputed them to Christ. Through faith you can have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you. This is the essence of the Gospel message and is the message I believe and proclaim. You don’t have to remain in your sin. You can experience freedom. You can be changed. You can have the righteousness of Christ. You can choose life! If you haven’t done this, what are you waiting for? “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
The Goodness of God
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). In my last article I sought to answer the question, why the gospel? In this article I want to consider the gospel in light of the goodness of God. All Christians would agree that God is good. In fact, most of us would sum up our belief in the goodness of God with the statement, “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” I’m not sure where that statement originated. But it is clearly biblically and theologically sound. But have you ever paused to consider why God is good? Furthermore, have you ever considered how we ought to respond to the goodness of God? God is definitely good. In fact, the Bible teaches He is good to everyone—believer and unbeliever alike (see Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness is a wonderful reality and is demonstrated through the riches of His grace, forbearance, and patience toward us. The question is, how ought we to respond to His goodness?
The Bible teaches there are two possible responses to God’s goodness. These responses can be described as willful responses in that each requires an exercise of the will. In other words, when faced with the wonderful reality of God’s goodness a decision is required from us—how will I respond? The first response is alluded to in the first few words of Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness?” Kindness here is the Greek word chrestotes, which appears some ten times in the New Testament and each time means goodness, kindness, or gentleness. Paul says God is good and because of His goodness we are asked, “Do you think lightly of His kindness?” The phrase, “think lightly of” is translated from the Greek word, kataphroneo, and means to despise, disdain, think little or nothing of, to scorn. So one possible response to God’s goodness is to scorn it, that is, to reject it. There are many today who scorn the goodness of God. In so doing, they reject the gospel, and as a result, Paul says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Obviously, it is a serious thing to reject the goodness of God. Another possible response to the goodness of God—one much more desirable if you ask me—is to receive or embrace His goodness. We do this through repentance. In other words, I repent of my sins and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hosea 3:5 says, “How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” So to reject God’s goodness is to “[store] up wrath” (Rom. 2:5), and to receive His goodness through repentance is to “[store up goodness]” (Hos. 3:5). This repentance works itself out through perseverance in doing good and results in “glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7). This is the Word of the Lord!
This brings us back to our original question. How ought we to respond to God’s goodness? To put it another way, how will you respond to God’s goodness? Will you reject it or receive it? Will you continue in your sin or repent, believe in and obey the Gospel? Paul concludes his thought here with a summation of God’s righteous judgment towards everyone: “For there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11). The Greek word translated partiality here means to judge things on the basis of external or pre-conceived notions. Some Jews wrongly believed God showed partiality towards the Jews. Some today—both Jews and non-Jews—believe God will somehow show them partiality in terms of judgment. However, Paul makes it clear this will not be the case. God is not partial. He is no respecter of persons. His judgment will be righteous and just. The only way to escape God’s judgment is to respond right now to His goodness by repenting of your sins, embracing, believing in and obeying the Gospel. If one fails to meet God’s conditions by rejecting and scorning His goodness, only judgment remains.
Why the Gospel?
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19). I would imagine most Christians know the basic definition of the Gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Paul defined the Gospel in his first letter to the Corinthian believers when he wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But I wonder how many Christians would be able to articulate the primary reason behind the Gospel. In other words, why did God give us the Gospel? Most, I am sure, would answer with some reference to the love of God. John 3:16 reminds us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” However, Paul reminds us of the primary reason for the Gospel. In his letter to the Romans—a letter that has been rightly hailed as the Constitution of Christianity—he declares the revelation of the wrath of God is the primary reason for the Gospel. In other words, Paul underscores the utter sinfulness of mankind, the fact all are without excuse and deserving judgment, and how desperately we all need the righteousness that only God can provide. So perhaps we should begin our Gospel presentations with God’s wrath rather than God’s love. After all, the Bible does say those who have not believed the Gospel, “[have] been judged already” (John 3:18). Could you imagine sharing the Gospel with someone by saying, “Did you know God’s wrath is right now being revealed against your ungodliness?” Think about it? How can we convince others they need to be saved unless we first answer the question saved from what?
Once we answer the question, “saved from what,” only then are we ready to present the Gospel. The Gospel, according to Paul, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The Greek word for “power” here is “dynamis,” from which we get an English word, “dynamite.” The word means inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature. The power of the Gospel is what God uses to deliver people from His wrath. It rescues people from the ultimate penalty of their sin—eternal separation from God and eternal punishment. Clearly, to believe the Gospel is to be rescued from all spiritual dangers. It is no wonder the Bible presents the proclamation of the Gospel as the obligation of all believers. In fact, Paul reminds us we are not only obligated to proclaim the Gospel but should all be eager to share the Gospel with every person (see Rom. 1:14-15). Such a message seems foolish to the world. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). But it is this foolish message that has the inherent power to produce the righteousness of God within a person’s heart. It is this foolish message that once embraced by faith results in “salvation to everyone who believes.” This is the Word of the Lord!
Saving faith consists of three fundamentals. First of all there is the mind—what we might call mental assent to the Gospel. In other words, one hears and understands the Gospel and the truth about Jesus Christ. This is the witness of Ephesians 1:13. Secondly, there is the emotional aspect. It is here one embraces the truthfulness of the Gospel with sorrow over sin and joy over God’s mercy and grace—“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:13). Finally, there is volition which speaks of the will or desire. It is here that one submits his or her will to Christ and trusts in Him alone as the only hope of salvation thus resulting not only in salvation but also in genuine repentance and authentic obedience of the one being saved. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” (Rom. 10:9). This is not a simple acknowledgement that He is God and the Lord of all. Even the demons acknowledge as much. This is the deep personal conviction—without reservation—that Jesus is Lord. Since Jesus is Lord, the saved person endeavors to bring every aspect of his or her life under His Lordship. Therefore, when one believes the Gospel sin is repented of, Christ alone is trusted for salvation and faith is evidenced through submission to Him as Lord. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
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