38 - Examples of How God Justifies [b]
Examples of How God Justifies
Romans Lesson #038
October 20, 2011
We are in Romans 4, which is one of the great chapters in the Scripture dealing with justification. We have been on this trajectory since Romans 3. Once we got into verse 21, we got into the centerpiece of Paul’s discussion of justification. The question is how can a human being be just before the Supreme Court of Heaven? Standing before the court of God’s justice, how can we ever claim that we are righteous? Not righteous in a sense that is the result of comparing our behavior, our actions, our ethics with other people that we know. We know that in many cases when human beings compare with other human beings, we can always find enough people to make us look good. Unless you are way down on the totem pole somewhere, there are always a lot of people you can figure out are beneath you.
But the standard is not a relative standard. It is an absolute standard related to the character of God. Paul has gone through in a meticulous and logical manner in chapters one, two and three showing that no human being, no matter how good they are, no matter how much they observe ritual can ever measure up to the standard that God sets. This is one of the hardest things to communicate to a lot of people for a couple of reasons. One is because the orientation of the human soul—that we know from Scripture—is arrogance. We believe in our own self-sufficiency—that somehow we can do it. So there is from the old sin nature this misplaced self confidence that we can somehow do enough, follow enough standards or rituals to merit God’s favor.
This shows up in almost all religions, except for biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity stands over against every other world religion in that the emphasis is on the fact that man cannot do it on his own, that only God can do it for us. It is in these chapters in Romans that Paul meticulously and logically lays out all of these steps.
As we came to the end of Romans 3, I just want to summarize the last part of what Paul says there. In verses 27-28, Paul, as he builds to his conclusion, says, “Where is boasting then?” It is obvious from what he has said, it is left out. There is nothing that we can point to in our own lives as having brought righteousness to us. “It is excluded by what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” I pointed out when we hit this verse last time that it is an important observation here to see that there is a contrast made between a law of works and a law of faith. Normally, we contrast works with grace, but here the contrast is between works and faith.
The issue in justification, which is how we are declared righteous before God, is are we justified by works or are we justified by faith? When we say justified by faith, we don’t just mean having faith. Everybody has faith; everybody has faith in something. It is the object of faith that is important. That is what makes the difference between a person who is going to heaven, based on the New Testament, and someone who is not. If you put the focus of your faith on the works of Jesus Christ, as opposed to our works, then we get into heaven on the basis of Him, not on the basis of what we do.
The contrast here is between works and faith, defined as the law of faith and the law of works. Verse 28 “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” The focus here is on the works of the Law, which does not just mean the ritual of the Mosaic Law but describes the entirety of the 613 commandments in the Law (both the civil commandments and the spiritual or ritual commandments).
The point is that not one person can fulfill all of those commandments and keep them the entirety of their life. As the Apostle Paul came to realize in his testimony, when he came to the 10th and last of the Ten Commandments “Thou shall not covet,” this related to a mental attitude sin. He knew he was guilty. He knew he coveted being righteous; he coveted being more successful and exceeding all of his peers in pursuit of righteousness. He knew that he could not overcome that. That was what convicted him and made him realize he could never live up to the Law. No one could live up to the Law. The point of the Law was not to show how to get righteousness, but that it is impossible for man to be perfectly righteous; therefore, God has to supply the answer. These two verses 27-28 state the principle that righteousness is through faith, not through the works of the Law.
In verses 29-30, we see that justification by faith is a principle that applies to all people. God does not have one standard of salvation for the Jews based on the Law and following its rituals, based on circumcision and another standard for Gentiles. Paul has demonstrated that even though the Jewish people were blessed by having the Scriptures, the promises, the covenants, which put them in a position of temporal blessing (blessing on this earth); it did not get them any closer to God in terms of eternal life. None of these benefits, these blessing that they had solved the basic problem that man has which is spiritual death. Thus, the principle is that justification applies equally to Jews and Gentiles.
In his conclusion in verse 31, he says, “Do we then make void the law through faith?” The question he is anticipating is that if it is based on faith, then that would lead to antinomianism or that we do not need the Law. We can just live whatever way we wish because if the Law does not get us into heaven and we are saved by grace through faith, then what does it matter how we behave?
This is one of the great objections that is passed down from generation to generation as an assault against Christianity. This is what happened in the mid-17th century, following the initial understanding of salvation and justification by faith alone by Martin Luther and John Calvin. Martin Luther came to an understanding of justification by faith alone.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, which used to be East Germany. These were disputation or debating points, and he wanted a public debate in the Catholic Church. He was still a Catholic monk at that time. The essence of this was caused by the fact that a man named Johann Tetzel had been sent out by the Vatican to raise money to build St. Peter’s in Rome. They did this by selling indulgences. People could pay money and buy an indulgence which was a sort of “get out of jail free” card in terms of purgatory for any parents or ancestors they had. Tetzel had a little ditty that he sang, “For every penny in the coffer rings; a soul from purgatory springs.” He went around Germany taking all kinds of money from the poor people. Luther was just incensed about this. He had gradually come to an understanding by 1517 that God saved apart from the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. He was not crystal clear yet on justification by faith alone.
His number two man that he influenced was Philipp Melanchthon, who had one of those rare, brilliant, theological minds. Melanchthon, somewhere between 1517-1518, was the one who very clearly brought Luther to a true grace understanding of justification. It did not matter what a person did before or after salvation. Justification was dependent on faith in Jesus Christ alone, period. He understood that separation between justification and experiential righteousness, which is part of Christian growth that comes after salvation if a person is studying the Word, applying the Word, and walking by means of God the Holy Spirit.
John Calvin, who does not come to his own understanding of justification by faith alone until the 1520s, in 1536 wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was dedicated to King Francis of France. His first edition was very small. It was 40-50 pages and was not the large two-volume work that most people think of today. In that first edition, he clearly understood that justification was not based on what a person does or what a person will do but is based solely and exclusively on what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. Through the first several editions of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he clearly understood grace. By the time you get into the late 1530s and into the 1540s, there started to be the rise of the push back from the Roman Catholic Church that later came to be known as the Counter-Reformation. In the Counter-Reformation, their charge that the Roman Catholic Church brought against the Protestants was how can we keep the masses under control if Jesus saved them by grace and they do not have to be moral or have to be obedient? The accusation was that this grace doctrine that the Protestants were teaching was just an open door to rank sinfulness and immorality. If all you have to do is believe in Jesus, then why be moral or good?
This is a question that Paul will address when he comes to the beginning of Romans 6:1 where he asks the rhetorical question “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He says, “Certainly not!” But the first point that we have to understand is this issue related to justification and that it is by faith alone. He raises this question here in Romans 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith?” In other words, if all we have to do is believe God, not do anything or to obey Him, then it just invalidates the Law altogether. He says, “May it never be! (me genoito /mh genoito, which is a very strong negation), sometimes translated “Certainly not!” He says, “On the contrary, we establish the law.” He is saying the Law has a role. It is not for justification, but he will show that it is to lead a person to the need to depend upon God. The law of faith actually fulfills the mandate of the Law of Moses through imputation.
What he is saying is that the law of faith is what establishes the Mosaic Law.
When we believe in the promise of God of salvation in the Old Testament or now we believe in Jesus, then at that instant God imputes to us or credits to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. What the Mosaic Law is pointing to is the fact that no one can have a relationship with God, no one can get into heaven, unless they possess that perfect righteousness of God. The law of faith is the only way to have the perfect righteousness of God, and, therefore, the law of faith establishes the Law because it fulfills what the Law could not fulfill which is the bringing of righteousness.
The background to all of this is understanding the basics of the essence of God as it relates to God’s righteousness. The attributes of God are His sovereignty, righteousness, justice, love, eternal life, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, veracity (absolute truth), and immutability (does not change, the same yesterday, today and forever). Scripture emphasizes and often brings together four of these attributes. His righteousness and His justice – these words in English are translations of the same word in Hebrew and the same word in Greek. In Hebrew it is tsedeq, and in Greek it is DIKAIOS. DIKAIOS can refer to either righteousness or can refer to justice. It is also connected with love.
What we often hear from people is an objection that has been uttered probably since the fall of Lucifer. “How can a loving God condemn His creatures?” Because in the mind of the creature, love and condemnation are irreconcilable. What I was pointing out last time is that a love that is not righteous and a righteousness that is not loving cannot exist in an eternal sense. You cannot have real love without righteousness, and you cannot have real righteousness without genuine love. These always go together and are inherently compatible. A love that is not based on righteousness and those absolutes is a shallow, superficial love that does not stand the test of time. The fourth attribute that is connected is the attribute of God’s veracity or His truth. So those four together make up the integrity of God.
They are connected together in verses such as Psalm 89:14. Psalm 89 is a meditation on God’s covenant with David. There is also a messianic aspect to this psalm, anticipating the coming of the greater Son of David, who is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. When His kingdom is established, it will exhibit these attributes. Psalm 89:14 states, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne (anticipating the messianic throne); mercy and truth go before Your face.” Mercy and truth are the expressions towards creatures of God’s core character of righteousness and justice.
Sedeqa is the word that is translated for both righteousness and justice. When the word has a sense that it is describing an absolute standard of God’s character, then it has the idea of righteousness. “Ness” ending in English tells us that it is representing the quality of something. The Greek correlation to that is the suffix SUNE on the word dikaios for justice or righteousness—DIKAIOSUNE. It is that quality of righteousness. Justice is the application of that standard to God’s creatures.
Another verse that is similar mentioning righteousness and justice together is Psalm 97:2, speaking again of the throne of God, the position from which He brings judgment. “Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” So again and again through Scripture, we need to ask a question “Why do we continue to have this emphasis from the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament on the righteousness of God?”
The mentality that approaches Scripture from a critical or skeptical viewpoint wants to draw a dichotomy between this God of the Old Testament – that evil, wicked Jehovah who always wants to condemn people—and the loving, kind, paternal God of the New Testament. What we find is that they go together; there is not a conflict or contradiction between the two. Righteousness and justice are expressed through the love of God. The Old Testament often emphasizes the righteousness and justice of God because it is communicating that there is a standard that God has in His dealings with mankind, and man fails to meet that standard.
Psalm 33:5 says, “He loves righteousness and justice …” He can only love righteousness and justice. God as a righteous God has no compatibility, no affinity for, no affection for that which is unrighteous. Something has to change. Since the unrighteous creature cannot change himself, it seems like the only solution is for God to be the one to provide the solution.
We have to remember these three descriptions of righteousness, justice and love. Righteousness is the standard of God’s own character. He is righteous. It doesn’t mean that He meets an external standard. We are not talking about some sort of Platonic idealism where there is some free-floating standard of perfection out there, and God is a creature who meets it. In Greek thought, there was something called a “chain of being.” This would start with the lowest amoeba, and you would go up the “chain of being” to God. It is all part of the same chain. The only difference between man, who is pretty far up the chain behind angels, and God is a degree of difference. There is not a qualitative difference.
In Scripture, God is not in this “chain of being.” He is the Creator and completely set apart and distinct from His creation. So God’s character defines righteousness. What a lot of people say is “That does not sound like that is really fair.” They have created an autonomous concept of fairness - this ideal. Then they want God to meet their standard of what they think fairness is. The question we should ask is, “How does a creature know enough facts to be able to establish an equitable standard of fairness?” Since God is omniscient and knows all the facts, all the hidden motivations, all the complexity of motivations that creatures have; only God can truly judge because He is the only one who knows all the facts and the only one is inherently righteous.
Righteousness is that standard of His own character. Justice is the application of that standard to His creatures. Love then is an expression of His righteousness and justice toward His creatures, and it is not based on their merit. It is based on His own character. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world (in this manner)…” Not “for God so loved the world” in English indicating that God loved the world so much. That is not what it is saying. The Greek word that begins the verse, HOUTOS, means in such a way or in this manner. What John is saying is “This is how God loves the world. He gave His only begotten (unique) Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” So that His love is an expression of His righteousness and justice in solving the problem that mankind has.
Some new principles. 1) What the righteousness of God demands, the justice of God then executes through the love of God and expressed through His grace. As I pointed out last time, everything that God does is part of His love. Thinking that through is crucial for being a parent or being in any kind of relationship. We will focus on the parental aspect. Ever since Benjamin Spock came along with his human viewpoint advice on how to raise children back in the early 1950s, it gave guidelines to a whole generation of parents on how to destroy the character of your children. It destroyed the whole concept of parental training, which includes discipline: negative punishment as well as positive motivation. So love has to punish as well as to bless. That is what instills a sense of responsibility in a child, so that they can learn that there are things that they have to discipline themselves not to do because there are negative consequences in their own life and in the lives of others. It is not all about them; it is about others.
This is part of the reason that in Christianity there is also an emphasis on service within the body of Christ because it is not all about us. Over the years, I have heard a lot of different Christians and churches talk about their spiritual life in a very narcissistic manner. “It is all about me. I just want to go to church where I can learn so I can be a better Christian.” In a sense that is true, but part of the Christian life is to learn that it is not about you and your spiritual life—that is a means to an end. The end is serving within the body of Christ.
As Paul describes using the metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, “We are members of one another.” That is a concept that really rubs against American self-sufficiency and individualism, which tends to atomize the Christian body into every individual part, and we are all pursuing the same thing together rather than emphasizing the mutuality that is part of that Christian ministry. Part of the reason we have so many passages that talk about admonishing one another, praying for one another, loving one another, teaching one another, encouraging one another is that this is part of the body of Christ.
Principle 2) What the righteousness of God approves, the justice of God will provide for through the grace of God, namely the fullness of blessing of God as an expression of love to the one who believes. Paul says in Ephesians 1:3, “(God) has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…” It is a free gift; it is not something we have to earn. We do not have to go through ten different stages of growth each time we get a little something else. This happens in especially esoteric religions, the mystery religions, Mormonism. There are other modern expressions you go through – sort of an initiate phase and then you swear an oath you will not divulge whatever it is you are going to learn at the next stage. If you are deemed worthy and not expressing skepticism and doubt, then you swear another oath and go to the next stage. You get closer and closer until you get to the secret truth. Then you are in the inner circle. That goes back to Gnosticism during the time of the early church and also manifests itself in all kinds of New Age religions or mind cults. Here God gives us everything at the beginning.
Principle 3) What the righteousness of God condemns, the justice of God judges but always in the love of God, so that the divine solution is provided through the grace of God. It is never apart from love. Love and justice are not incompatible, but in the biblical teaching, they must always go together. God can only love what is consistent with His righteousness. When love, in a more intimate sense, is not consistent with His righteousness, then in love He also has to reject. That is part of love.
That is a tough concept for people to get. This is the one reason you have two different words for love in Scripture. You have “God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” What did He do in love? He judged the second Person of the Trinity for our sins. You cannot separate judgment from love. The word that is used there in John 3:16 is the Greek word AGAPE. There is another Greek word that is used in the New Testament for love—the verb is PHILEO and the noun is PHILOS. It has to do with a more intimate affection. When the verb PHILEO is used, the object is always Christians. God never has a PHILEO type love (which is more intimate) for unbelievers; He only has AGAPE love. Love is always involved in whatever God is doing. I am trying to challenge your understanding of love, so it is a little more biblical.
Judgment and blessing are both expressions of God’s integrity—the totality of His integrity: justice, righteousness, love, and truth.
Paul moves us to the next level in his development and argument for justification. He is going to bring in two illustrations from the Old Testament: one related to Abraham, the other related to David. The question here that he is answering is from a Jewish objection, “How then can you demonstrate that justification is by faith? Where do you get this idea? Is this something that Paul dreamed up?” No, it is not. Paul is going to go to an episode in the life of Abraham and an episode in the life of David in order to show from the Old Testament that justification by faith alone has always been the principle in God’s dealing with mankind. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, saints are justified by faith alone.
He says in Romans 4:1 “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” What he means by “according to the flesh” is simply “in his material existence.” When he was on the earth, how was he saved, how was he justified? Paul approaches this by giving us the alternatives: There are only two options: either he is justified by works before God, or he is not. One or the other.
In Romans 4:2, he states the one alternative “For if Abraham was justified (or declared righteous) by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” The if clause here in the Greek is a first class condition, which means that Paul is assuming the truth of this first phrase “If Abraham was justified by works.” This would be more of a debater’s use of a first class condition: “For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that Abraham was justified by works.” That is all he is saying. People get confused by the first class condition thinking that it means “if and it is true.” It really is “if and it is assumed to be true.” It may or may not be true. In some cases, it is true, and in other cases like this, it is an assumption of truth for the basis of the argument. He is saying, “We will assume it is true that Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of works.”
Then the conclusion, “He does have something to boast about.” He was good enough, but you cannot boast before God. What we just demonstrated earlier is that boasting is excluded—Romans 3:27. We cannot boast on our efforts. The boasting itself would negate the righteousness. He implies here that there is a justification, but it is not before God; it is before man. We have lived a good life. There is nothing wrong with living a good, moral life, but it is not going to gain entry into heaven. That is the issue we are talking about.
The word that is used here that is translated justify is the Greek verb DIKAIOO, which means to pronounce someone righteous or just. It is not making them just. A couple of weeks ago we studied this. I brought a cup up here and poured water into the cup as an illustration of the Roman Catholic view of justification, that something is made righteous. They use the term infused or imparted righteousness. If that were true, it would mean that the sin nature is somehow changed when you get saved, so that you are actually made moral: the deficit of the sin nature is changed. Now you become a good person. In Roman Catholic theology, that happens incrementally every time you participate in a sacrament. Each time you get a little bit more of the merit of Jesus Christ, called the Treasury of Merit, and it takes away a little bit of the sin nature.
You have something that really is comparable to that within lordship salvation. In strict high Calvinism where they emphasize total inability, you often have the idea of regeneration as not being that something positive is born or created within the immaterial part of man or is added to the immaterial part of man (what we refer to as the human spirit which is part of his new nature as a believer in Christ), but that regeneration really changes and minimizes the sinfulness of the sin nature.
I read an interesting article 12 or 13 years ago. It was referred to several times by different speakers at the Chafer Bible Conference in March 2011. It dealt with understanding what Lewis Sperry Chafer was saying on the spiritual life and the distinction between the spiritual life, spiritual growth, spiritual death, justification and how these things all go together. A classmate of mine from when I was in the doctoral program at Dallas Seminary (I think he is now teaching at the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary) wrote an article dealing with this debate that went on between Lewis Sperry Chafer and Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield. Warfield was the dean of theologians in the Presbyterian community in the early 20th century. He taught at Princeton and was considered the greatest living American theologian at the time. Lewis Sperry Chafer was very complimentary of Warfield in many, many ways, but when Chafer wrote his book He That is Spiritual, Warfield just blasted him in a book review that was published in the Princeton Theological Review. That has been a basis of battle for years in theological debate and discussion.
Randy Gleason wrote this article and said something in his conclusion that always struck me. He said, “The problem that Chafer had was that he had a low view of regeneration. He didn’t understand that regeneration minimizes and reduces the sinfulness of the sin nature.” It was like light bulbs went off in my head. Nobody ever really came out and said that before. In reformed theology, which is Calvinistic theology, their view of regeneration is not the positive birth of something new, the new nature given to a believer in Jesus Christ, but it is the minimalization.of the sin nature. This is why in pure lordship theology, if you are really a believer, you will not commit certain sins because your sin nature is not as bad as it was before you were saved. Chafer believed that your sin nature after you are saved is just as bad and evil as it was before you were saved. You are not made righteous; you are declared righteous. This is why we call it forensic justification.
In the 17th century in England, people died weekly as to whether or not they understood the difference between forensic justification and infused righteousness. That was when people thought ideas really mattered, theology really mattered, what you believed about God really mattered. I am not justifying the fact that they were burning people at the stake. In England after Henry VIII died, his son Edward, a Protestant, reigned for a couple of years and died; then Bloody Mary came in for a few years, and she died; and then Elizabeth came in. One month you are on the good side, and the next month you are on the bad side, so you really had to be careful during that time.
The point I am making is that these kinds of theological ideas and distinctions to a 21st century Christian seem like hairsplitting and irrelevant. “Let’s just go out and get people saved and do something good for the kingdom.” That just negates the witness and the martyrdom of thousands of Christians over several centuries as they were dying for the truth. And now we do not care about the truth. We do not want to think so precisely about understanding basic concepts like justification - what that means and what that does not mean.
The idea of justification is not that someone is made righteous, but they are declared righteous by God from the Supreme Court of Heaven. The problem is how is a person going to do enough to be declared righteous by God? Especially when you have Old Testament passages like Isaiah 64:6 “… all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Same Hebrew word tzedakah – all our righteous deeds, not all of our unrighteous deeds, failures, sins. In other words, the best we can do is never going to be good enough because the best we can do is still a filthy, soiled garment that does not measure up.
The next key word is in Romans 4:3. Paul says “For what does the Scripture say?” We are going to go back to our illustration in the Old Testament – Genesis 15:6 “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This is the first clear statement of this idea in the Old Testament. But it is clear from Scripture that Noah had to be declared righteous; Adam had to be declared righteous. They were all sinners. Just because you do not have a clear statement of imputation of righteousness until Abraham does not mean that Abraham is the first true believer. I have read some comments to that effect.
This is the first time in the revelation of Scripture that God begins to give us detailed analysis of some of these things. The word covenant is not used in Genesis until chapter 9. That does not mean that what is expressed in Genesis 1-3 is not a covenant, just because it is not called a covenant. It has all the elements of a covenant, so it is a covenant. Isaiah refers to it as a covenant. Today we have theologians that say if the word imputation or righteousness or belief is not there until Genesis 12, then you never had it before. I think that is begging the question.
So Scripture says, “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This is the Greek word LOGIZOMAI, based on the noun LOGOS for word or logic. This word comes over into English in various forms. In the study of something—biology, zoology—that “log” comes from the Greek word LOGOS and the verb LOGIZOMAI. It means to think about something. It is an accounting term to credit something to someone’s account, which is different than putting something into someone’s account. I have used the illustration of co-signing on a loan.
The third key word here is righteousness—“…and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” That is DIKAIOS in the Greek and tzedakah in the Hebrew. I went through several weeks ago when we first got into this study that the basic definition of imputation is an accounting term. It is a mathematical concept where something is credited to someone’s account. It does not mean that necessarily something is put into that account. If I do not have the financial capability to buy a house, someone else can co-sign on it. Their money does not have to go into my account, but the bank will look at their credit as opposed to my credit and look in their account as opposed to my account. On the basis of what they have in their account, then I can be approved for the loan. In essence what is happening is that they are being approved for the loan.
The Greek word is LOGIZOMAI and the Hebrew word is hashab, which has fundamentally the same meaning: to think, to plan, to make a judgment, to count, compute, calculate. All these are words related to thinking and to reasoning something out. In English the word impute has the same idea. The Oxford English Dictionary, second meaning, states, “Theology: ascribe (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to someone by virtue of a similar quality in someone else.” The word LOGIZOMAI is sometimes translated reckon. In English this is a little bit of an archaic term but has the same idea to calculate, to be of the opinion, to regard something in a specified way. In Old English it was an accounting term meaning to give an account for items received. It had that same idea – to credit something or to impute something to someone. The idea to credit something means to ascribe something (an achievement or good quality) to someone else.
Imputation is then the act of the justice of God, whereby either condemnation or blessing is assigned, credited or attributed to a human being. It is a judicial declaration. We are flooded with these forensic shows today. Thirty years ago you had Quincy, M.E., and now you have CSI and CSI New York and CSI Miami and NCIS and NCIS Los Angeles—all the law and order franchises. Forensic is what goes on judicially in a courtroom and what can be presented for evidence and what cannot be presented. The word forensic is a word that ought to be understood today by anybody who watches TV, but it often is not because as soon as you talk about theology, they quit thinking. They have a brain spasm, and the brain locks up.
But the time-honored word for talking about the Protestant view of justification by faith alone is that it is forensic justification. This means that God looks at you, the defendant, and because the defendant is covered by the righteousness of Christ, God, the judge, declares you not guilty. It does not make you not guilty; it does not change you. But you are declared not guilty because Christ paid the penalty.
As I pointed out a few weeks ago, Lewis Sperry Chafer divided imputations into two categories: real and judicial. In the middle of that quote on the screen, he said, “That which is real is the reckoning to one of that which is antecedently his …” That is a little awkward for most people to get their understanding around. It basically means that there is a compatibility between what is imputed and the person receiving the imputation. Later he will say “man’s unrighteousness assigned to Christ who is righteous” – that cannot be a real imputation because there is no compatibility between the two. That would have to be a judicial imputation. In a real imputation, there is a compatibility between the two, such as the imputation of eternal life to the regenerate believer. There is something there that is compatible between the two.
Chafer’s quote “That which is real is the reckoning to one of what which is antecedently his, while judicial imputation is the reckoning to one of that which is not antecedently his.” When we read in Scripture (2 Corinthians 5:21) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us…”, that is a judicial imputation. This kind of thinking is not common today in theology, but it was common in generations past because they were trying to think clearly and precisely about what is said in God’s Word.
We have four real imputations. 1) Adam’s original sin is imputed to our sin nature. (Romans 5:12-21) There is a compatibility between the two. 2) Eternal life is imputed to the human spirit. (1 John 5:11-12) 3) Blessings in time are imputed to the righteousness of God in us. (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 2:9.) 4) Blessings in eternity are imputed to the resurrected believer because he has the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Judicial imputations, which is really what we are focused on in Romans 4, have to do with the imputation of our personal sins to Christ on the Cross, so He is judicially judged. He is declared by the justice of God to be a sinner and to bear the penalty of our sin, but He does not become a sinner. Understanding that is essential to understanding what happens to us. Jesus never becomes a sinner—that would impact his deity and rip the fabric of the universe. He is declared a sinner and bears the penalty for our sins.
When the next aspect occurs that His perfect righteousness is given to the believer, then we understand that we are not made perfect either. We are still a sinner; we are just judicially declared to be righteous.
Turn with me to Genesis 15:6. This is such a crucial issue. Every time I have anybody who goes to seminary or takes any kind of Bible college courses, they always come back to this. They will hear a couple of different views. Genesis 15 is the fourth chapter dealing with God’s relationship to Abraham. He calls Abram in Genesis 12 and says in verses 1-3, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This is a summary of the Abrahamic Covenant. At this point is Abraham saved? Yes, he is. When you get to Genesis 15:1, God tells Abraham “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” God says He will give him a son that will come through him. After He says those promises in the first five verses, then verse six says “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” It sounds like this is when he believes in the Lord, but it is not. This is really a parenthetical verse reminding the reader that Abraham had already believed in the Lord. He is not believing in Him at this point and getting righteousness. It is referring to something that happened before Genesis 12.
Every time I go to this, I get the opportunity to go through and read a lot more material than I have studied in the past. I was impressed this time with the fact that a large number of commentaries make it clear that what I just said is the correct view based on the grammar of the passage.