We started this week talking about the dilemma imposed morality. The dilemma is in conformity. No matter how moral someone may act, they are no more or less righteous than the non-conformer. In fact the person conforming may be worse off if they believe their conformity provides them with any righteousness before God. (Romans 3:20)
We covered the difference between guilt based on how someone else feels about our actions, which generally leads to conformity, and guilt based on God’s word, which has the power to result in true repentance (Ephesians 5:26)
Yesterday, we looked at potential problems with personal morality. When we believe that personal morality (or lack thereof) impacts someone’s relationship with God or when we believe that personal morality makes someone more (or less) spiritual, we’ve completely missed the point of personal morality and it becomes a problem for us.
Today, I want to close out by talking about the blessing of imputed righteousness. Many of us grew up learning the saying, “Justified means just as if I’d never sinned.” While the play on sounds is cute and the concept contains truth, it really only tells half of the story of justification.
We are all sinners by our very nature. The psalmist says, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). While this verse has been misinterpreted to say sex is sinful, that is not what it really means. This verse is simply telling us the truth about ourselves, that we are born with a sin nature. The Apostle Paul says our sin nature is inherited from Adam and that the penalty for that sin is death (Romans 5:12). Paul goes on to teach that those who put their faith in Christ are no longer under that penalty of death, it was taken away and paid by Jesus (Romans 5:9). God is an eternal being and is not bound by time. He takes all of our sins, past, present and future, and our sin nature inherited from Adam and puts the entirety of our debt against Him onto Christ, clearing our account (Colossians 2:13-14). Praise His holy name!
In addition to God taking our account of sin debt and placing it on Christ to be paid by His death, God also takes Christ’s righteous life, His perfect fulfilling of the law, and applies that perfection to our account (II Corinthians 5:21). Paul discusses this concept in depth in Romans 4 detailing that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account by the same faith that saves us from judgement (vs 3-7 and 22-24). Isaiah 61:10 describes it as a “robe of righteousness” being placed on us by God Himself. This righteousness is necessary because, not only does restoration to God require us to be sinless (Isaiah 59:2), but God also requires that we live a perfect life according to His law (Matthew 5:20, 48). Christ lived a perfect life in our place, just as He died a sinners death in our place (Romans 5:19). Praise His holy name!
Now that we have been relieved of our sin debt and given Christ’s righteousness, and all our future sins are already forgiven as well, we are free to live as we please, right? Not exactly. We are free and have the ability to choose to sin, but Paul explains in Romans 6 that sin is not just a moral failing, but a very contradiction of our new nature (vs 1-3 and 16-18). We still struggle with sinful desires (see Romans 7), but Paul is clear that to choose sin (worse, to choose habitual sin) is to act counter to our very nature. We are no longer slaves, but free, and choosing to sin is to return to our old slave masters. (See I Corinthians 6:13-20). We have been free and we should no longer return to our sin.
But our good works are not for us, but simply living out the new nature that has been given to us. Because now, once we have placed our faith in Christ, we are seen by God as having the righteousness of Christ, we no longer need to do anything to earn favor with God. For what could we possibly add to the righteous of Christ that has already been imputed to us? As we touched on yesterday, our sanctification is the transformation of our life to reflect the transformation of our heart (Romans 8:29). Our efforts, our works, do not contribute to our sanctification, rather they are the result of our sanctification. Once we are saved, we have received Christ’s righteousness and a purified heart and God is working in us to bring about conformity to Christ in our life (Ezekiel 36:24-26; II Corinthians 2:18).
So our good works are no longer efforts on our part to earn favor with God, or acts to prevent God from condemning us. Rather our good works are simply the working out of Christ’s character by God’s transforming power in our lives. We have everything we need from God and we are already forgiven and pleasing to Him. The imputed righteousness of Christ is the blessing of God that transforms our life.