Evangelical Essentials (Part Six)
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Phil. 3:8-9 (NKJV)
Many criticize the Reformation’s understanding of forensic/imputed righteousness because of the law court metaphor. The law court metaphor was used by the Apostle Paul frequently in the letters to the Romans and the Galatians.
What God does for us in justification is similar to what the judge does in a law court: He does not change the defendant by turning him or her into a new kind of person; rather, he declares the defendant innocent of the charges brought against him or her . . . Justification reminds us that our standing with God is by grace and that thankfulness should be the hallmark in all our dealings with him.
[Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 56-57.
A law court seems impersonal and abstract–too judicial. Imputed, or forensic righteousness, seems to teach a declaration in heaven of righteousness for the believer without the corresponding transformation of character on earth. The problem with rejecting this understanding is that this is the exact image that the Apostle Paul uses in Romans 1:16-17 and in Romans 3:21-26.
The phrase the “righteousness of God” (dikaiosune theou) means that an individual is vindicated in a divine law court because of the work of Christ. The term signifies that people who are still sinners stand not guilty before God because of the gift of righteousness. This righteousness from God is truly a gift (Rom. 5.17), it is from God (1 Cor. 1.30), it is received by faith (Gal. 2.20, Rom 9.30-31), it is reckoned therefore making it a status (Rom. 4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11; 6.11) and it has as it’s source the very nature of God therefore making this gift what Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness” (Phil. 3.9). Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, agreed when he stated, “Justification means both the discharging of the debt of sin, and the crediting (imputation) of Christ’s righteousness” (Stromata V:5).
The problem that I, or anyone of you, would have with the doctrine of imputed righteousness is when a believer claims to have a righteous standing before God and yet lives inconsistent with the holy standards of the New Testament. This inconsistency occurs when Evangelical preachers neglect to recognize that the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) also means transformation. That is, the righteousness of God is the saving power of God to change an individual’s life and transform them into the Christ-like character.
The righteousness of God is not only a status, but is the very power that transforms us into righteous people. Romans 1:16-17 (RSV) is emphatic concerning this truth:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’
In other words, the declared righteousness of God is an effective righteousness in that it transforms an individual’s life. Romans 8:1-4 teaches that Christ died destroying the power of sin which enables us to live the righteous life God demands.”Justification, whose sole condition is penitent faith, is never lacking in fruits of faith, by which the believer is assured that the Spirit is working within.”
[Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 206.
Therefore, the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) declares us righteous in the Father’s court of law while simultaneously transforming us into the likeness of Christ.