As we prepare our hearts to receive the Lord’s Supper today I want to simply reflect on one particular aspect of Jesus work on the cross.
And I want to start by looking at a few passages of Scripture we find in the New Testament.
First, 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Second, Romans 3:23-36: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Third, Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The first thing to point out is that justification is a legal declaration.
Let me give you an example. If a man commits a murder, he is morally guilty and he knows it. But he is not legally guilty until the trial continues and they court declares the man guilty. His legal status changed on the basis of the declaration. He has a new legal status.
Moreover, this declaration really has nothing to do with the actual nature of the person involved.
Switch the analogy: in a wedding ceremony, the man and the woman are two separate people and then the minister declares, “I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss the bride.” Well there is a legal declaration there and it confers a new legal status. But the man is the same man. The wife is the same woman. There was no magical wife-ness infused into the wife. The husband didn’t have some sort of husband juice poured into him. No one minute he was single, the next he was married. And nothing changed in him, but a declaration outside of him brought him a new status.
When it comes to our standing before God it is the same way. Our nature is not involved in the legal declaration. God declares us legally righteous even though we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is only after this declaration that we begin to change and become more holy. Again, it is akin to marriage – it is only after that legal declaration that you get to kiss the bride and enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of the marriage.
The God Who Wants to Condemn and Doesn’t Want to Condemn
On what basis then, can God declare us righteous, even though we are sinners? This is a real problem people have with the doctrine of justification! If we are truly guilty, how can God declare us to be not guilty, without himself becoming guilty? Well what I have just described is the real problem of Romans chapter 3 – God wanted to save us – he wanted to legally declare us to be righteous! And yet his justice demanded that we be condemned for our guilt! He wanted to condemn, and not condemn at the same time! So what is he to do? Well the answer from the Romans 3 passage that I just read is that in order to be just and also the justifier is that God put forth Jesus, his own Son, who was fully God, to take the punishment that we ought to have for our sin. So justice was done. And then what he did is, for anyone who would come to believe in Jesus, God legally declared that our status would be conferred to Jesus and also legally declared that Jesus’ status would be conferred to us! And the old word for that is imputation. God thinks of us differently than what we actually are. He imputes the standing of Jesus to us as if we had earned it. It’s not just that we are forgiven and we have a morally neutral state – no we have a righteous standing, a morally positive state. And we did nothing for it.
So our dirty robes are taken off and placed on the back of Jesus. And Jesus clean and royal robes are placed on our backs.
And so then because of this exchange, we have forgiveness, and God keeps his justice! So we are free to walk out of the courtroom totally righteous in our status. That’s glorious! Amen? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So salvation then actually comes down to three legal imputations. When we are born we are imputed with the sin of Adam. He is our forefather – he is our head to use the language of the Bible. As our head we inherited his legal status. But then because of Jesus, if we trust in him in faith, the legal status we have in Adam is declared to now belong to Jesus. And then, third, the legal status of Jesus, before God, is declared to be ours! So our actual righteousness, our actual deeds have no role to play in this interaction whatsoever! The only thing that we need to do is have faith in Jesus – and that faith, by the way, is God’s gift – it’s his work, his doing.
And that brings us to this table. To have a seat at this table is only possible because of the work of Jesus. It is all gift. It is all grace. We did nothing. We have no righteousness in which to place our hope if we are to stand before God. So I want to encourage you to turn to Jesus, to be baptized, and then to receive this feast in thanksgiving for God and what he has done for us in Christ. And if you have not yet believed in Jesus and responded to him in baptism then I would ask you to let this bread and juice pass by and then take some time to reflect on all I have just said.