Justified by Faith (c) David and Imputed Righteousness
In expounding God’s remedy for man’s sinfulness Paul lays down the foundation of Justification by Faith. This doctrine lies at the heart of the Gospel. As sin explains man’s need before God, so justification explains how man can be accepted by God. In chapter 4 Paul concentrates upon the example of Abraham who “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” In v6-8, however, he takes a quotation from David (Psalm 32:1-2), another revered Jewish leader. He is using these examples to show that Justification by Faith is an ancient truth that alone explains how man gains favour with God. It also, crucially, explains how the guilty conscience can be pacified. Our last study examined the role of grace in Justification. Today we will think about another vital element to this revealed truth, imputed righteousness.
1: The Happiness of Imputed Righteousness
Sin is the reason why man is plagued with difficulty. Job memorably summed up the circumstances that sin has inflicted humanity, “…man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). It was also that most troubled of all men who posed the question which encompasses man’s only source of happiness, “…how should a man be just with God” (Job 9:2). Paul here, quoting from David describes the justified man as blessed. The Greek word basically means fortune. It describes an individual who has received the greatest degree of happiness in this life. Worldly people see their happiness in material wealth and possessions. The Christian has a fortune greater than that which inflation steals and death destroys, acceptance with God is the greatest favour known to man. In Psalm 32 the Hebrew word, translated happiness is a plural literally meaning “the happinesses of.” The hymn writer was not exaggerating, “O happy day that fixed my choice, on thee my Saviour and my God.”
2: The Act of Imputed Righteousness
It is important to emphasise that Justification is not the work of a lifetime but the act of a moment. Theologians call Justification a forensic term which means legal. God has passed a law in the courts of heaven whereby his people are declared righteous. Justification changes the way God’s law views us, we are no longer guilty but we are righteous in his sight. This is the true basis of salvation, if sin renders us guilty then we must be justified to be made righteous. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace to sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.” (Westminster Larger Catechism Answer 70). The word imputed is a book keeping term which means to take an inventory or maintain a record of stock. The idea is that our account with God was unrighteousness, this was the sum total of our stock. Therefore what we held was worthless. God then imputed or transferred the righteousness of Christ to our account. The stock that we now hold is pure and grants us acceptance. Please be reminded once again that this is what God does apart from the works of the flesh, an irreversible act of divine and sovereign grace.
3: The Victory of Imputed Righteousness
As Justification is designed to deal with the sin problem so this imputation of righteousness liberates us from the bondage of sin. How? In v 7 Paul uses two Greek words which explain how this truth deals with our sinfulness:
i. “Forgiven” – the word literally means “to send away”. It is used in this sense in Matthew 13:36. On the Day of Atonement the sins of the people were transferred to the scapegoat which was then sent away into the wilderness. Our sins are sent away because Christ bore their punishment and guilt himself (Hebrews 9:28).
ii. “Covered” – the true parallel here is again found in the Day Of Atonement. Another goat was sacrificed and its blood was sprinkled over the mercy seat which covered the Ark containing the law. Our unrighteousness is today covered by the blood of Christ. Therefore the person whose sins have been sent away and covered no longer has the stock of sin on his accounts with God, only Christ’s righteousness, he is a happy person indeed.