It’s Not Enough to Have Your Sins Forgiven

Why the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness Is Essential

Paul refers to the righteousness from God, that is, the righteous status God graciously and freely gives to condemned sinners who receive Him by faith. This righteousness, Luther realized, is an alien righteousness. It’s not a righteousness from within the sinner, but rather the perfect, stainless righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to the sinner’s account upon faith.

 

When the reformer Martin Luther was first confronted by Paul’s phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3, he was overwhelmed and lost all hope. He knew he couldn’t match up to the perfect standard of God’s righteousness. Such righteousness, he thought, would be revealed as God’s wrath against all human ungodliness.

However, Luther’s understanding of the gospel completely shifted when he realized Paul didn’t mean God’s punitive justice, whereby He punishes the ungodly. Instead, Paul refers to the righteousness from God, that is the righteous status God graciously and freely gives to condemned sinners who receive Him by faith. And this righteousness, Luther realized, is an alien righteousness. It’s not a righteousness from within the sinner, but rather the perfect, stainless righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to the sinner’s account upon faith.

Luther’s heavy conscience was relieved. It wasn’t his good works—which could never earn him a righteousness good enough to stand before a perfectly holy God—but the righteousness of Christ—which comes through faith alone—that gave him a right standing before God.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on Luther’s discovery. If the forgiveness of sins is all there is to the doctrine of justification, then we have a significant problem. As essential as it is to have our sins forgiven, if we only have our sins removed, we still stand before God empty without a positive righteousness that gives us favor with God.

Think of it this way: the forgiveness of our sins leaves us in an awkward state of neutrality, emptiness, and nakedness. Yes, we aren’t guilty before God, but we aren’t yet righteous before God either. Our debt has been canceled, but no funds have been transferred to fill our account. Our dirty robe has been removed, but no clean robe covers our nakedness, presenting us as holy before God.

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