Sunday, May 8, 2011

God Justifies the Ungodly… Part 4
By Geoffrey R. Kirkland

Greek Text:
τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην·

Geoff’s Translation:
But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

This pregnant verse encapsulates the core elements of the gospel. It includes such truths as the inability of mankind to work at attaining their own salvation (τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ), the necessity for humans to have true, saving faith to be saved (πιστεύοντι), the One whom we are to believe in and the One who justifies, namely God (τὸν δικαιοῦντα), and the prerequisite for being eligible to receive salvation is that one must be “ungodly”—and every single human being qualifies (τὸν ἀσεβῆ).

This launches us to our final element in this study on the gospel. It is an element that is often neglected from “gospel presentations” and from “evangelistic campaigns.” Yet it is at the very core of the gospel. It is at this point where the great exchange takes place. This is the biblical truth of God crediting my faith as righteousness (λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην). Theologians call this the doctrine of the imputation. At the moment of true, saving faith in Jesus Christ, the sinner’s faith (ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ) is reckoned or credited or accounted as righteousness. The picture is that of an accounting transaction that takes place. True saving faith in Jesus Christ reckons that ungodly sinner righteous. But that begs the question: how? How can God take the ungodly person’s faith and credit that as righteousness?

There are two answers to this question. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Something happens at the moment of salvation. It is called dual imputation. It is inextricably linked to justification. Not only are you declared by God to be forgiven of your sin; but you are also spiritually cleansed and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ (the garment of Christ). Just as you got up this morning & clothed yourself to cover your body and keep you warm. So it is at the moment of salvation, God clothes you and covers you with the perfect garment of Christ’s righteousness and keeps you guarded from his violent and eternal wrath. This reckoning or accounting has two realities.

First, all your sin is credited (or reckoned) to Jesus Christ. This is what the prophet Isaiah means when he writes: “Yet He Himself bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:12). First Peter speaks of this same passage in Isaiah as referring to Jesus the Messiah: “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet 2:24). It’s like if you were hiking with your spouse and she wears the heavy backpack for the first few minutes and then you take the entire load off her shoulders and place it on your own—you bear the entire weight of that burden. That’s exactly what happened when your sins were credited to Christ. First John 3:5 says that “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins.” Hymnwriter Charles Gabriel had it right when he wrote:
He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

And second, the necessary counterpart that is the flip-side to the same coin is the reality that all Christ’s righteousness was credited (or reckoned) to you. Jesus died for the ungodly and he took their sins; but he didn’t just leave them neutral; standing sinless. The biblical portrait is that God wrapped you with the eternal, saving, faultless, spotless garb of Christ’s perfection! The Scriptures speak to this in numerous accounts. Romans 5:19 says “For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous,” “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9), “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).

Just as paint surrounds the outside of your car, so the righteousness of Christ completely surrounds the believer. Just as my DNA was transferred to my son, so Christ’s righteousness is transferred to us through saving faith. Just as on a cold winter day you cover your entire body w/ clothing, so Christ’s righteousness fully engulfs you finally and eternally and irremovably. Note one of the clearest verses in the New Testament that speaks of both realities of dual imputation: “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; cp. Rom 5:18-19).

This is the biblical gospel. The gospel is that God justifies ungodly men and women by means of true, saving faith in Jesus Christ. At that moment of salvation, God justifies them and in a spiritually mysterious and supernatural way, God credits all my sin to Christ and at the same time credits all Christ’s righteousness to me. This way God can treat us as His children; indeed, as sons and daughters of the Living God! Charles Spurgeon remarked on the mind-boggling reality of this truth that God justifies the ungodly. Here’s what he wrote.

You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him who justifies the ungodly.” I do not wonder at your surprise. For, with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder, at it either … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This truth is a very surprising thing—a thing to be marveled at most of all by those who enjoy it. I know that it is to me even to this day the greatest wonder that I ever heard of—that God should ever justify me. I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin, apart from His almighty love. I know and am fully assured that I am justified by “faith which is in Christ Jesus.” I am treated as if I had been perfectly just and made an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. And yet by nature, I must take my place among the most sinful. Though altogether undeserving, I am treated as if I had been deserving. I am loved with as much love as if I had always been godly, whereas before I was ungodly. Who can help being astonished at this demonstration of grace? Gratitude for such favor stands dressed in robes of wonder.

What an amazing reality to sear upon our minds again: “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5)!

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