Justification by Faith
and Imputed Righteousness
God is a just God, and He is the justifier of the person
who has faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:26).
That is one of those important truths that separate
historical Biblical Christianity from the religious cults.
The believing sinner is “justified as a gift by His grace
through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as
a propitiation in His blood through faith” (vv. 23-24).
God is a just God, and the justification of the sinner must
be accomplished in perfect harmony with God’s justice. Even in the justification
of the sinner the holiness of God must be preserved and demonstrated. Every
requirement of the law must be satisfied, and the infinitely holy character of
God must be satisfied.
The law places a double demand on sinners because it
requires their full obedience to its precepts, and their full endurance of its
penalty when the law is broken.
How can anyone possibly meet this condition since it is a
universal fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? The
only way is for God to provide what man cannot do. In grace God has already
fulfilled these requirements, and paid in full the penalty by sending His Son
“born under the law” (Gal. 4:4) to “became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8).
Christ’s life of righteousness culminated in His dying the
death of the unrighteous and fulfilling the will of God. Jesus Christ bore the
penal curse of the law in the sinner’s place and therefore made propitiation for
the sinner (Rom. 3:25). On the basis of the life and death of the sinless Christ
“there resulted justification of life to all men” (5:18).
The law has been perfectly fulfilled by Jesus Christ acting
in the name of, and on behalf of the believing sinner. The claims of the law on
the guilty sinner have been fully satisfied.
Moreover, on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience, God
does not impute sin, but imputes the righteousness of His Son, to sinners who
believe in Him (4:2-8; 5:19).
This imputed righteousness is entirely apart from the
sinner’s works. God provides His own perfect righteousness to the believer’s
In both the Old and the New Testaments justification is
used only in a legal or forensic understanding. Justification does not mean “to
make just or righteous,” but “to declare judicially that one is in
harmony with the law.” A righteous person is one who has been declared by God to
be free from guilt.
God credits righteousness on the basis of a person putting
his faith in Jesus Christ. That declaration is final and irrevocable the moment
the person is declared just (3:28; 5:1; 8:1).
Our need for justification can only be met if the
righteousness of God is credited to us.
The divine exchange took place when “the Son of God though
spotlessly pure took our sin and in return clothes us with His purity,” notes
Righteousness is imputed because of the believer’s vital
union with Christ. The believer is “in Christ” and there the righteousness of
Christ is imputed to Him. The Christian is therefore legally declared just on
the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. Legally we now have a
perfect righteous standing before a holy and just God (2 Cor. 5:21).
The believer is righteous before God for no other reason
than that Christ the Head was righteous before God, and he is one with Him and
shares that status and acceptance before God. God declares the believing sinner righteous,
because He reckons him to be righteous. It is a judicial or forensic act of God.
God declares the believing sinner righteous in His
presence. The sinner is no longer condemned, and no longer liable to the penalty
of the law. The justified sinner is now entitled to all the privileges due to
those who have perfectly kept the law.
Justification does not mean to make a person righteous by
spiritual renewal (Rom. 4:5-8). God confers a legal status on the believer
canceling all legal liability. It is important to declare that justification is a judgment
passed on man, not a work wrought within man. The work in a believer is
sanctification. Justification is God’s gift of a status and a
relationship to Himself, not a new heart. A new heart is regeneration.
Certainly, God does regenerate those whom He justifies, but the two things are
not the same and we must make that very clear in our minds.
On the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ,
God now treats every believer in Christ as if they are righteous.
Message by Wil Pounds (c) 2006
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