Too often theology is taught as though it were merely truth to be thought rather than truth to be lived. Today, I want to remind you of the doctrine of justification and help you understand some of the practical implications of that glorious truth as they apply to our lives.
The Texts: “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” (Rom. 5:17-18)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
At the heart of the doctrine of justification is what theologians call double imputation. The word “impute” simply means reckon or consider. Imputation is assumed in the Romans 5 passage when Paul says that the sin of one man caused death to reign and condemnation to come upon all men whereas the obedience of one man results in the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. The action of imputation or reckoning is what we call the action of sin or righteousness of one person being considered to reign over other people (Rom. 5:17). Nothing may have changed physically/materially in that moment, but there has been a transfer of jurisdictions. The fact that we are all sinners depends on the fact of Adam’s sin/guilty status being transferred to all of us (original sin). But Paul says that Christ’s obedience is the sort of obedience that has the possibility of being transferred to our account (imputation). Likewise, Paul says anyone in Christ is a new creation, the old has passed away and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). In justification, this status is reckoned to us as true. Paul calls this ministry of making new creations, the ministry of reconciliation, and he says that God reconciles people to Himself by not imputing their trespasses to them (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Who does God impute our trespasses to? “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Our sin is imputed to Christ (who knew no sin), and the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to us. The entire file of our sin is emptied and put into the file of Jesus (where it is destroyed), and the entire file of the obedience of Jesus is copied and put into our file. This is why there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus; our sin was condemned and God’s justice was satisfied in the cross of Jesus, and that justice is imputed to us, all by faith alone (Rom. 8:1-4).
The Gift of Righteous
Paul says that those who receive the abundant grace and gift of righteousness reign in life. There’s a similar idea inherent in being “new creations,” with the old passed away and everything new. Apart from God’s free justification apart from works, all of our attempts at life are futile and frustrating balancing acts. We try to make up for failures, we try to overcome accusations, we try to prove ourselves to ourselves or others. We may or may not think about how we stand before God, but implicitly, we are trying to make God happy with us. We suspect (or know) that he is disappointed or angry but certainly not very pleased with us. Everything rides on what you think is in your file. If there is anything embarrassing, shameful, or ugly in your file, you cannot reign in life. Even someone who has heard and tried to believe the gospel many times can still have lingering doubts and fears.
Justified Life: Marriage, Childrearing, Vocation
The challenge of being married to a sinner is great, but the further our culture drifts from the gospel of grace, the more marriage seems to be for the birds. Why would you do that to yourself? Justification gives us the power to reign in marriage by freeing us to embrace our callings as men and women without fear. All people have biological assignments from God to live as men or women in this world. If you are a new creation in Christ, that assignment has been renewed. If you have been reconciled to God, you have that mission from God and carry it out in fellowship with God. Your record on file is already “perfect.” We don’t deserve that, and that’s what the Bible calls grace. This frees us to confess our failures honestly and to take up duties gladly. Husbands, lead and love your wife in this grace. Wives, respect and support your husband in this grace. Forgive one another freely as you have been forgiven.
Like marriage, the further we get from the source of strength for parenting, the less advisable children seem. Apart from grace, why would you do that to yourself? In addition to the fact that loving small sinners is just plain difficult, it doesn’t take about ten minutes and any thoughtful parent is aware of their own failures. We are too harsh, too lenient, impatient, inconsistent, and easily frustrated. And sinful parents compound the weight of their sin with an acute guilt for sinning against their children. You used to think you were a nice person before you had kids. But God uses this in our lives to underline the fact that we are not good or nice people. You have thought, said, and done evil things. What’s in your file under “parenting?” Is it the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ or is it a stack of shameful report cards? Justification means you can honestly deal with your sins in parenting, but it also means that you can love, teach, and correct your children in the strength of grace. You reign here too.
Finally, people were made to work. We tend to identify ourselves with our callings, our vocations, our gifts. Sometimes, when we have failed in other areas of life, we try to make up for it vocationally. This frequently results in compounding other problems. You may be succeeding at work but it’s crushing your wife and children. Conversely, sometimes, our hopes and dreams are crushed vocationally. We don’t get the job, we get laid off, it isn’t what we thought. Your vocation is not strong enough, good enough to make you good. What’s in your file? Stellar employee? Team player? Excellent reputation? Those can be taken away from you in an instant (Kavanaugh anyone?). They are always in danger. But the righteousness of Christ cannot be taken away. The righteousness of Christ frees you to work hard, love excellence, take risks, and not allow your work to crush you or others. It frees you to embrace your calling as grace from the Lord, and to use your calling to share that grace with others. Grace does not mean sloppy work, cutting corners, or taking advantage of others. Grace isn’t foolhardy, but it is full of courage. Grace loves the truth, hard work, and good work because our sins have been laid on Jesus and His righteousness has been imputed to us so that we can reign in life.
[You can find the audio recording for this sermon here.]