But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
When I was a child I periodically received what I call ‘tickle spankings.’ These occurred at times when I had done something wrong. I deserved to be spanked, and I had waited all day for my father to get home so he could spank me. Dad would call me into my parents' bedroom and with a stern face he would tell me to turn around and lift up my arms. And just as I was anticipating the first swat, he would reach out and tickle my armpits. He would tickle me until I turned blue. Afterward he would talk to me about what I had done wrong and would make sure that I wouldn't do it again. There were plenty of times that I received actual spankings, which I deserved, but those times when I received a tickle spanking instead were special to me. They were lessons on grace and mercy for me as a young boy. I deserved my father's hand in punishment, but instead he reached out and blessed me, drawing me closer into relationship with him in the process.
I think that this is similar to what Paul is saying God has done for us. In the chapters leading up to this passage, Paul has argued that we are neither righteous nor capable of earning righteousness by keeping the law. We are all sinful and deserve God's hand in punishment, but now Paul breaks in with good news. At the cross we find a new source of righteousness for the people of God- a righteousness that is not earned by observing the law but one that "comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."
Theologians sometimes call this "imputation" which sounds fancy but is really rather easy to understand. John Piper explains it this way: “When a teacher cancels from the record an exam that got an F, it’s not the same as declaring it an A. If the bank were to forgive me the debts on my account, that would not be the same as declaring me rich…Christ fulfilled all righteousness perfectly; and then that righteousness was reckoned to be mine, when I trusted in him. I was counted righteous. God looked on Christ’s perfect righteousness, and he declared me to be righteous with the righteousness of Christ.”*
What does this mean for you and me? You and I have sinned against God, and we ought to have been utterly destroyed. Instead, God not only forgave us our sins and withheld His wrath but He also gave us righteousness so that we might enter into His presence and know Him. This ought to affect us very deeply. Many of us ran with the devil for years before coming to Christ. Some ran with the devil for years after coming to faith. Listen to the word of God! God has not simply forgiven you; He has made you completely righteous. He does not simply forgive and forget, He has changed you into a new creation- one that will never be defiled and that is no longer enslaved to the sin that so ensnared us all. You stand before God holy and blameless, clothed in the righteousness of Christ!
Therefore, I urge you if you are still living after the manner of this world to put away sin and seek God. You have been blessed to enter into relationship with Him. Don't take it for granted. And for those of you who deal with the shame and guilt of your past…know that you have been made new. You are completely forgiven. You have no need to hold onto your shame or your guilt any longer. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior and repented of your sins, then you have been washed in His blood and are as pure as Jesus.
For further reading this week…
- II Corinthians 5:16-21: New creation in Christ!
- Romans 4 (especially verse 3): Abraham's faith counted as righteousness.
- James 2:14-26 (especially verse 23): Faith without works is dead.
* Many of the concepts in this post came from The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper (chapter 11). This book is now published under the title Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. I highly recommend it. It is well suited for devotional material or light reading.