CONNECTING THE DOTS IN ROMANS (3 of 3)
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 33
Romans 1-5 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
In 1924, Adolf Hitler began writing his book: Mein Kampf, which means “My Struggle.” When it was published a year later, many ignored it, some laughed at it, but for every word in Mein Kampf, 125 people lost their lives in WWII. We should never underestimate the power of words. The word of a setting judge can either condemn a man or set him free. A word from a doctor can plunge a patient into great fear or great relief. A government official speaks, and billions of taxpayer dollars can instantly exchange hands. Words are far more powerful and influential in our lives than we often think. The Bible tells us the tongue is like a tiny spark that can set a great forest on fire (James 3:5).
This morning we’re going wrap up looking at some key life-changing words Paul uses in Romans 1-5. We’ve look at Justification – God’s gracious act whereby He declares the believing sinner to be right with Him. We’ve looked at Propitiation – Christ’s work on the cross whereby He satisfied God’s holiness in order to extend grace and mercy to believing sinners. Justification and propitiation are the work of God that takes place in our lives the moment we place our trust in Christ. Our sins are forgiven past, present, and future. We’re permanently and eternally made right with God. Because of our faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, we are fully accepted, fully loved, fully pleasing, and fully secure in God! Today we’re going to look at two more significant words: Imputation and Reconciliation.
Hearing all these “ation” words reminds me of a little boy whose father was a pastor. All of his life he’d been hearing his father preach justification, sanctification, and all the other “ations.” So he was ready when his Sunday School teacher asked if anyone knew what “procrastination” meant. The boy spoke up, “I’m not sure what it means, but I know our church believes in it.”
- Imputation. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was
credited to him as righteousness… Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:3, 23-24). Credited (λογίζομαι – to count, consider, think). Paul is saying God now counts or sees Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. Jesus’ righteousness has now become ours. It is a free gift based on our faith in Christ alone (5:17; 4:6).
The easiest way to understand imputation is to see two accounts. One has Christ’s name on it and other has Adam’s name on it. Jesus’s record is perfect. He lived a completely sinless life flawlessly obeying the will of God the Father. No skeletons in His closet, no hidden dirt that can be dug up. He is fully righteous, completely spotless. But Adam’s account is completely riddled with sin. He is utterly bankrupt. Our record is Adam’s record because we’re the children of Adam. None of us can say we are perfect, no skeletons, no hidden dirt. And we know it. Sin has affected every part of our lives. If sin were blue, we’d be blue all over. The Bible says God has audited the books and found we can do nothing to pay for our indebtedness.
What can we do? A lot of people try to ignore it. For them sin is about mind over matter. They don’t mind and it does not matter. Or they try kick it down the road. They tell themselves; I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Some people try to revise or even replace their record with busyness; constantly filling their lives with noise and distractions so they don’t have to think about it. Others try to destroy it. But they can’t because that record is kept by God. The Bible says one day they will stand before God and He is going to open up their record; they’re going to have to give an account. We can live in the illusion of the moment and pretend that day is not coming, but it is. What can we do? How do we solve the problem of our spiritual bankruptcy before God? God’s answer is imputation.
But imputation is a two-way street. Jesus both took our debt and gave us His righteousness through His sacrificial death on the cross.
- Jesus took our debt. Jesus suffered in our place for our sin. We may know
this, but we probably haven’t thought through the extent of His suffering. There four different ways Jesus suffered. (I am greatly indebted here to Dr. Wayne Grudem for his thoughtful work in Systematic Theology, Pp. 572-577).
One: The physical pain of His death. Crucifixion was one of the most extremely painful forms of death invented to ensure people would suffer and die a slow torturous death. The Persians were the first to develop the idea (Esther7:10). But it was the Romans who made it even more dreadful. Lifted high on a cross in naked shame and humiliation, every part of the victim’s body was consumed with an inescapable and searing pain. Often the victim lived for days and finally died of suffocation. He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed(Isaiah 53:5, NLT).
Two: The pain of bearing our sin. Worse than the physical pain was the pain of bearing the guilt of our sin. All of us have experienced the heavy anguish of our own sin. How it separates and destroys relationships. We have a deep awareness that something is wrong; things ought not be this way. We know as well, that the closer we grow in our relationship with God, the more we see our own sin and are repulsed by it.
For Jesus it was something far worse. He lived a sinless, perfectly holy life (1 Peter 1:19). Though He was tempted by sin, He never gave into it (Heb. 4:15). He never had an evil thought or motive. Sin was completely foreign to His character. Sin was more putrid to Him than gangrene. He was completely repulsed by it. Yet, what He hated with all His being and was utterly repulsed by, He willingly took on Himself so that we could be forgiven. All that He hated the most deeply was poured out on Him the most fully. The Lord has caused the iniquity (Hebrew: “awvone” – perversity, depravity, sin) of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6). Paul says in Galatians 3, Jesus became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The mental and spiritual pain of bearing our guilt on the cross was far worse than the physical.
Three: The pain of rejection. When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, He took Peter, James, and John. He told them: My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me (Mark 13:34, NLT). But they didn’t. Overwhelmed with mental, emotional, and physical fatigue they slept. When Jesus needed the support of His closest friends, they failed Him. Then when the mob came to arrest Jesus, all of His disciples abandoned Him (Matt. 26:56). There is nothing worse than feeling rejected when we are hurting the most. Where our own actions might bring on the rejection of others, there was nothing in Jesus’ actions deserving the rejection He received. Yet, John says Jesus loved His disciples to the end (John 13:1). But the greatest rejection was when He endured was the rejection of God when He bore our sins: Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor(Habakkuk 1:13, NAS). Jesus became our sin in all its shame, guilt, and brokenness (2 Cor. 5:21).
Four: The pain of bearing God’s wrath. For reasons we cannot understand or explain, Jesus willingly became the object of God’s intense wrath and fury God had patiently stored up since sin first entered the world. The Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus alone, as the God-Man was uniquely able to bear God’s full wrath to the end. He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many (Isaiah 53:12). When Jesus cried out on the cross: It is finished!(John 19:30), He was saying God’s wrath is satisfied (propitiated). Suddenly Paul’s words in Romans 5:8 take on a more significant meaning: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Jesus endured the physical pain of the cross, the mental and spiritual pain of our sin, the rejection of both man and His Father, and God’s full wrath all for our sake. All this to say, our sins were imputed on Jesus. God thought of our sin as belonging to Jesus. It was not because Jesus actually sinned but became sin for our sake.
- Jesus gave us His righteousness. God not only took the sin from our account,
and placed it in Jesus’s account, but He also took Jesus’ righteousness and placed it in ours. God now sees Jesus’ righteousness as belonging to us! But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Paul said his goal was to be found in Christ: Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith(Philippians 3:9). How do we receive Christ’s righteousness? By turning from our sin and placing our faith in Christ.
Have you ever wondered why by faith alone in Christ? Because faith is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Christ in faith, we are saying, I am not depending on myself or my abilities in order to be right with God. Faith is an attitude of complete surrender, complete dependence on God. The only way we can experience the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is by faith. This means Christ’s righteousness is permanently written on our record. God will not change His mind. Their sin and lawless deeds I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17).
This came home to me the other day while I was reflecting on Abraham’s life. Reflecting on Abraham’s life God says in Genesis 26:5: Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws. When I read that, I thought, “Wait a minute!” God makes it sound like Abraham lived a perfect life of obedience. But I know he didn’t. More than once he lied to save his skin. His obedience was neither complete nor consistent.
- Reconciliation. Simply put, reconciliation means restoring a relationship from one of enmity to friendship. One of the most difficult barriers to relationships is an unwillingness to forgive and reconcile with others. I read about a frontier preacher who was preaching against hatred, he asked all those who had overcome the sin of hatred to stand. He was shocked when one older man rose to his feet. The preacher asked him this could be, and the man said, “All the skunks who done me dirt, all them scoundrels I hated—they’re all dead.”
If anyone has a right to not forgive and reconcile it is God. The moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God would have been perfectly in His right not to forgive or reconcile His relationship with them. But what we see over and over again in the Bible is God loves to reconcile lost sinners to Himsel and with each other. When Adam sinned, it was God who came searching for Adam (Gen. 3:9). The Bible says that is why Jesus came to seek and save lost sinners – to remove the enmity between God and man and restore a right relationship.For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).
A lot of people feel may they want to reconcile with God, but they’re unsure what reconciliation means. How real is it? How long will it last? What happens if they sin again – is God going to change His mind? Some understand God’s reconciliation to be God’s second chance. If they blow it, there are no third or fourth chances. Nor is reconciliation a temporary ceasefire. Reconciliation means that God has declared a real and permanent peace with us (Rom. 5:1).
What is God saying through reconciliation? It is God’s answer to our fear of rejection. Because we have been justified – declared righteous and because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us, that is God now sees Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, God wants us to know we are reconciled with Him. He is no longer at war with us and never will be again. Jesus has made us fully accepted, fully pleasing, fully loved, and fully secure in God. The barriers of His broken Law and our sin were removed through Christ. Reconciliation means we can say the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). It means we can say with Paul: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).