Tag Archives: Righteousness

Abraham and the Righteousness of Christ

 

In two of the more recent posts, we’ve looked at significant Old Testament figures and their hope in the coming of The Redeemer.  It is by faith that they embrace this hope in a forward-looking faith as they awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Though an argument from silence, it would not be difficult to reach the conclusion that these two individuals, Eve and Lamech, were saved.  We move now to a third example of salvation from the OT, one much more explicit and much more foundational to our understanding of salvation in the OT.

In Genesis 11, we are introduced to the man Abram and his wife Sarai.  Abram was called by God to move his family to a land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1) and along his journey we see God unfolding the Abrahamic Covenant while simultaneously pointing forward to the New Covenant (far too much to cover in this post, see Genesis 12:7; Gen. 15; 17:1-14, 19; 22:12-18 ).  In Genesis 15:1-6 we read

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The context for this passage is the promise of a son to Abraham who would be his heir and provide the lineage for the Messiah who would fulfill God’s covenant in an ultimate sense, literally an innumerable offspring for all those who are “in Christ” (another lengthy post for later).  Abraham’s response is that “he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  This may be a familiar verse upon first reading.  It may be one that you’ve read over time and again, and perhaps like I have, taken it for granted.  However, it’s central to our understanding of salvation in the Old Testament because the Apostle Paul references this passage in Romans 4 and follows up in chapter 5 with a significant doctrinal statement.  Read carefully the following:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The context for this passage is the justification of Abraham by faith.  Subsequently, Paul is laying the foundation for understanding the salvation of all believers, not simply those in the New Testament, which is why he chooses the Patriarch of Israel to destroy any notion of a second way of salvation for Jews versus Gentiles.  Romans 4:3 is a direct reference to our passage from Genesis 15:6.  Notice how Paul expands this idea of Abraham’s justification by faith to include a contrast between “the one who works” and “the one who does not work but believes in him” to show that this concept of salvation by faith alone is not limited to Abraham, but is a paradigm for all salvation.

The phrase coincident to our passage from Genesis 15 and this passage from Romans 4 is that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness”.  What does this mean?  There are a couple of ways to approach this answer, the first is that “counted” is better translated “imputed”.  If fact, I’m disappointed with the ESV translation here.  The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a massive concept in Scripture and “counted” fails to adequately convey this thought.  The NKJV follows suit with “accounted” while the NASB is slightly better with “credited”.  Secondly, I prefer the word imputed (or even reckon) here, but I understand the NASB’s reason for their choice because the idea being conveyed is that on God’s accounting ledger of justice the “debits”, i.e. sins of a sinner, are cleared upon their repentance while simultaneously Christ’s righteousness is “credited”, i.e. imputed or reckoned, to the sinner upon their profession of faith in Him (an oversimplification of the necessity of both repentance and faith).  The Apostle Paul builds upon this doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in Romans 5, particularly in verses 12-21.  In this passage we can see the Apostle outlining clearly the “imputation” of Adam’s sin and guilt to his posterity contrasted with the “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness to His posterity, or all those who are united with Him, namely believers.

Simply stated, because of Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s law, He has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law.  Adam in his disobedience had the guilt from his original sin “imputed” to all mankind.  Subsequently all mankind, fallen in Adam, has failed to meet God’s righteous requirements set forth in His law.  Therefore, we are in need of a righteousness from outside ourselves, namely the righteousness of Christ.  His righteousness, not our own, is credited to us upon our salvation resulting in our justification before God.

Now you may be asking what does any of this have to do with Abraham, let alone salvation in the Old Testament.  I think we now have sufficient evidence to set forth clearly the passage from Genesis 15:6 where Moses, writing about Abraham 2000 years before the birth of Christ, writes an explicit statement about Christ’s righteousness being imputed to Abraham by faith.  Let that sink in for a minute before you ask how can this be?  How can Abraham, 2000 years before Christ even set foot on the earth possibly be declared justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, “he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness”.  Answer: Abraham was justified by a faith that looked forward, believing the promise of God; a forward looking faith that ultimately reached its destination in the finished work of Christ (be reminded also of Hebrews 11:8-12; James 2:14-26).  He was justified, i.e. saved, by faith through the grace of God and the righteousness that comes from Christ alone was imputed to him.  Salvation in the Old Testament is perfectly consistent with salvation in the New Testament.  God has 1 people and 1 plan to redeem them, His Son Jesus Christ.

Sola Fide

Sola Gratia

Solus Christus

Conviction by the Spirit points to Christ

One thing that’s occurred to me recently, not only in observing the visible church, but also within my own life and ministry is that there is very little knowledge, active presence, or reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit.  It would seem that this is the case from the largest efforts of man to build mega-churches to the most individual efforts of “convincing” sinners of their need for Jesus and calling on them to make decisions for Christ.  The Holy Spirit, the 3rd member of the Trinity, the “other Helper” that Jesus promises, is largely absent.  The Forgotten God as one author states.  Ask most people what He does and you’re likely to get blank stares.  In fact, ask if the Holy Spirit is a He at all, not an “it”, and watch panic set in.  Why?  I believe largely this is due to decisional evangelism and pragmatic, results based ministries that were so popularized by Charles Finney (1800’s) and has become to this day the model for mainstream evangelicalism.  It seems that today the Holy Spirit is either ignored all together in most denominations or largely overemphasized in charismatic and Pentecostal denominations.  Each extreme is a travesty, but unless we return to preaching Christ-centered messages in the power of the Holy Spirit and recover the lost doctrines of what the Bible teaches about the ministry of the Spirit, then no revival, no reformation will happen.  Only man-centered, flesh driven ministries that thrive on attendance and the tickling of ears will prosper, albeit for a season and then flame out because they’re powerless.  So why the lack of Holy Spirit teaching and understanding?  Because the Spirit convicts and most people do not want to feel convicted.  It’s uncomfortable.  It can be difficult, even painful at times.  But make no mistake about it, it’s necessary and without it there is no genuine salvation.

In studying the Holy Spirit recently, albeit very limited, I ran headfirst into a problem, namely a lack of information on the biblical role of the Holy Spirit, if not a complete lack of info, then at least incomplete information or inconsistent at best.  Keep in mind, I’m not referring to spiritual gifts, i.e. tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. I’m talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, what His purpose is and how He accomplishes that purpose.

Jesus defines this ministry in what has been called the greatest sermon ever preached, the Upper-Room Discourse, as it’s affectionately known, as found in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16.  Here Jesus describes and promises the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples.  In His last message to His disciples before His death, Jesus is telling them that He has to go, His earthly work will soon be finished at the cross, but He promises that He will send another Helper for them (and us).  This promise is made in John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  Now imagine just for a second what must be going through the minds of the disciples.  Jesus, whom they’ve been with for a few years now, walked with, talked with, touched, learned from, broken bread with, is leaving and He is going to send someone else that the world can’t see or know.  That had to blow their minds and bring up so many questions.  Nevertheless, this promised Helper is promised power for the disciples.  Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things He’s taught them, surely an inference to the Spirit-guided inspiration of Scripture.

As He continues with His sermon, Jesus points out in John 15:26 the primary purpose for sending the Holy Spirit, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  It’s here that we see the Spirit will “bear witness” about Jesus.  But what exactly does this “bear witness” mean, by what method is it accomplished, and how?

To bear witness simply means to point towards or to testify of.  It’s the Greek word martyreo, which means to bear witness or affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something (see Blue Letter Bible Lexicon for more).  So the Holy Spirit’s primary role is to point towards Christ.  Likewise, we see that His role is to glorify Christ, as read in John 16:14.  But by what means or avenue does He do this?  The first way that the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ is through the written Word of God, namely the Bible.  Remember that Jesus told us back in John 14:16-17 that the Spirit would bring to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus taught and told them.  Ever wonder how the written works of the disciples were written in such detail?  They likely didn’t walk around carrying notebooks; it was through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  All of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation bears witness to Christ.  Since it is inspired by the Spirit, we see the first of the methods used by the Spirit to point to Christ is through the Scriptures.

The second avenue through which the Holy Spirit works to bear witness to Christ is found in John 15:27, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”  This verse followed right after Jesus’ declaration that the Spirit would bear witness.  Are we to deduce here that there are two separate parties pointing to Christ, namely believers (in context the disciples) and the Holy Spirit?  No, instead it’s best understood as in conjunction with, meaning believers through the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Christ through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. 

This leaves us with the question of how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry through these two avenues that we identified.  In chapter 16 of John’s Gospel, we are told what He will do upon His arrival.  It’s this passage that I found lacking completeness in the study Bibles, commentaries, and sermons that I reviewed.  Here is the rather complex passage, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” John 16:8-11

It seems reasonable, if the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to point towards Christ, then we must conclude that His role as defined by Jesus above, must likewise point towards Christ.  In this passage, we see 3 functions of the Spirit’s ministry.  The first is conviction of sin, but not just any sin, that of unbelief in Christ.  In John 3, a chapter in which Jesus describes Spiritual rebirth no less, the chapter concludes with this bold statement (from John the Baptist), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  The fundamental human responsibility upon hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to respond to the Spirit’s conviction by repenting and then subsequently placing one’s Spirit provided faith in Christ.  (Note: The order of repentance first vs. faith first has often been one of debate; however there can be no debate over the necessity of each).  We read of an example of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction in Peter’s Gospel sermon from Acts 2, where the hearer’s were “cut to the heart”, an obvious response to the work of the Spirit, which was followed up by repentance and an immediate declaration of their faith by baptism.

The second area of conviction mentioned in our passage is that of righteousness.  On the surface, this might seem a bit confusing, especially in regards to whose righteousness the passage referring to.  But clearly this is speaking of the righteousness of Christ, namely His active obedience (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8) to the law of God in living the perfect, sinless life and reaching completeness in His passive obedience (Philippians 2:8) of death on the cross.  Philippians 3:9 gives a little insight into this righteousness, “and be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  The Holy Spirit conviction concerning this is because through no righteousness of our own can we either improve our standing with God or earn our own salvation, but instead it’s through Christ’s righteousness that reconciliation and salvation come.

From our study passage above, the third way that the Holy Spirit convicts is “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”  Critical to understanding this part is to find out who Jesus is referring to as “the ruler of this world.”  In John 12:31 Jesus makes a similar reference, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”  Likewise, reference to the “ruler of this world” is made again in John 14:30.  Jesus says that this person is judged and cast out both of which are an obvious reference to Satan.  When He states that Satan is judged, this is a reference to the finished work of Christ on the cross in defeating the powers of Satan.  In Colossians 2:15 we read, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  Also, “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14b  At Calvary Jesus defeated Satan, the ruler of this world, and although his final sentence is yet to be handed down, he is already judged, as we read in John 16:11. 

We need to ask ourselves, given the primary role of the Holy Spirit to point to Christ, how then does this conviction ministry point or bear witness to Christ?  I believe that the key to understanding this is found in understanding the work of Christ, which we have studied here over the past few months.  When doing so, we see that the Spirit’s conviction of the sin of unbelief points towards the need for Christ as Savior.  In 1 John 4:14 we read, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  Because of sin, we need a Savior, and that is only found in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all those who would believe so that they might have eternal life.  Secondly, the conviction of righteousness points toward the need for Christ as Substitute.  We are all born sinful by nature, meaning at birth we are “unrighteous”. Eph. 2:1-4, Romans 5:12 No matter how much we try to do good or work our way into God’s favor it will never happen.  We can never be good enough.  Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad; in fact as Isaiah 64:6 states even our good deeds are as filthy rags.  Contrary to popular belief we are not “basically good people.” Romans 3:10-12 We need the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ credited or imputed to our account, just as we read in Philippians 3:9.  Finally, in the conviction of judgment the Holy Spirit points to the need for Christ as Advocate or Intercessor.  In 1 John 2:1b we read”…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Likewise, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25  The idea behind both of these passage is that Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, acts as a defense attorney on behalf of those who have faith in Him.  Without Him, sinners are condemned and remain under the wrath of God.

There is so much more to say about God the Holy Spirit, but to understand His ministry it’s important to begin where Christ did, namely that the Spirit was sent to glorify Him.  We are called to preach Christ from the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit to work in the hearts of men according to the will of God.  “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17

Dear reader ask yourself if you have ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit.  If you have, did you respond in repentance from your sin and faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus and His perfect righteousness?  If you didn’t respond that way, what are you waiting for?  You have need of a Savior, Substitute, and Advocate; otherwise you face judgment on your own.