"20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Romans 4:20-25
Growing up in a conservative church I heard a lot about how a Christian was to live and the things we were to do and not do but rarely was the subject of justification explained clearly or adequately. I now believe this is because very few preachers fully understand the subject of justification by faith alone themselves. "Sola Fida" or "by faith alone" is something most of us would claim to believe, but do we truly live like we believe it? Do we live our lives and order our churches in a way that gives the world around us the message that we absolutely believe in faith alone as the source of our salvation or do they get a different idea? More on that in a later post.
God's righteousness was imputed or accounted to Abraham's account some 400 years before the law was ever given, proving, like so often mentioned in the New Testament, that righteousness does not come from the law or anything we may do. What does it mean that Abraham's faith was imputed or counted to him for righteousness? It is mentioned in these verses as well as in Romans 4:3: " For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
The Catholic Church teaches that salvation is a process that happens over one's life. Abraham here was instantly justified upon belief and even though he committed many sins throughout his life, some even quite severe, he remained saved. The Catholic Church teaches that there are mortal sins and venial sins. One may be forgiven for a mortal sin through confession to a priest. Venial sins on the other hand do not affect one's salvation, whereas a mortal sin will cause them to lose their salvation until they repent before a priest for this sin. Examples of mortal sins are adultery, lying and stealing etc. The Catholic Church also makes no distinction between sanctification and justification which causes much confusion in how we view this entire subject.
Our salvation can be viewed in three phases, we have Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. The Catholics view salvation as something that is gained through faithful living and by taking the sacraments of the church (mass). Transubstantiation teaches that the priest has the power to call Christ down out of heaven, offer Him up again to the people, who then partake of His literal body and blood. They literally crucify Christ afresh. This is a works-based salvation as they teach that your salvation is gained and maintained through good works and the taking of the sacraments. This is clearly not scriptural.
So what does it truly mean to be justified? To have Christ's righteousness imputed to you? "To whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." Wow, those words are simply amazing. To have Christ's righteousness imputed to us...accounted to our account. First, we must ask, what does our account look like? The Bible says, "we all have sinned" Romans 3:23; "There is none righteous" Romans 3:10; Mark 7:21-23 mentions all kinds of debauchery that comes from our hearts. These scriptures and many more paint a picture of mankind as depraved and as having a bent away from God, not toward God.
The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9, " For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." This clearly states that faith in Christ is not a work and thus is also a gift of God made possible by His grace. Having established this to be true we must assume that to have Christ's righteousness imputed to us is something that we have nothing to do with apart from believing, which we are able to do because of God's grace. Now we are told that this justification makes us righteous...it can be looked at as a transaction in which our sins are exchanged for Christ's righteousness...what a trade. Upon this legal transaction we stand justified before God even though nothing else has changed at this point in my life. Just like the thief on the cross who was justified and made righteous with no righteous acts of his own to boast. So righteousness is not how you or I live, it is not good morals or dressing right. Those things follow in the life of a Christian but have nothing to do with gaining or maintaining his salvation. (The area of sanctification will be discussed in a future post, sanctification is what happens in a believer' s life from justification onward but has nothing to do with obtaining or maintaining that justification. The Bible rather says that a person that does not show any sanctification is most likely a very immature Christian or most often not saved.)
John Bunyan said it this way, "One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, 'The same yesterday, today and, and forever' (Hebrews 13:8).
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God." (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91
John Bunyan recognized a very important truth--that Christ's righteousness is in heaven and that this same righteousness was also his. He recognized that his righteous living did not alter or make his righteousness better nor did his sin make his righteousness somehow less. It is Christ's righteousness after all that is accounted to us. This is why the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:9, " And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith". It is not our righteousness that we have accounted to us but God's and if His then who are we to believe that we can somehow earn or maintain "Christ's righteousness"? John Bunyan also noted that Christ does not change. Our righteousness is God's righteousness and as such does not change with our ups and downs because God does not change.
This all points me to the fact that upon having Christ's righteousness imputed to me, I become justified [forgiven of all my sins past, present and future]. The sins have disappeared. It is a supernatural transaction. The work of the cross as applied to my life results in a complete legal justification before my God and my performance cannot alter Christ's righteousness. Hebrews 10:14 says, "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
I grew up with the impression that my salvation was in jeopardy every time I messed up and perhaps, if I might die in my sin, I would go to Hell. The Apostle John says we all have sin and I have no doubt all of us may die with some un-confessed sin or stubbornness against God in some area of our life. Where would the line be in determining if I have rid myself of every sin, every selfish ambition, every bit of self will? There is no way! Praise the Lord that because I depend on His righteousness and not mine I no longer have to worry that I may die not perfect. I know that I will not. But before God I will be viewed as perfect because God will be looking at Jesus righteousness, not mine.
Notice Bunyan's last statement. "Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed." Many Christians are chained or bound by the teaching that we must die completely holy in order to get to heaven. This is why Catholics teach a purgatory to purify you if you didn't die quite holy enough. But closer to home, many people in the Mennonite church around us believe in a form of works-based salvation by teaching that our performance maintains our salvation. This is taught in many different ways that we won't go into now. We must remember that we as mere humans are not able to maintain a righteousness that we could not earn or create in the first place. The bottom line is that when I die, is it Christ that I have trusted or have I put my trust in my Mennonite heritage and in my performance? Is it Christ's performance for me on the cross that I trust or is it mine?
Am I saying how we live does not matter? Absolutely not! James is clear that our works prove our faith. But the rest of the Bible is clear that justification is by faith alone and not of our works. Few of us stop to think about what this really means. And few of us realize that a preacher who does not preach this clearly or at all is in fact preaching a works salvation. May God bless you as you study His Word. We will explore more of the differences between justification and sanctification on the next post.
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Galatians 6:14
Tags: salvation justification works