Our obedience is important—necessary, in fact—for glorifying God and becoming more conformed to the image of Christ. But if we wake up each day thinking this work hangs on our efforts, we will be setting ourselves up for discouragement at best, despair at worst.
The Daily Blessing of Imputation
One of the saddest phenomena in the evangelical church is the generations-long subscription among many to a kind of half-gospel. A sinner hears the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the saving work of Jesus Christ and they come to faith without knowing the other half of it.
Now, I am not saying those who legitimately repent and believe in Jesus are only half-saved! No one’s faith must be perfect, nor must every convert know everything there is to know about the fullness of the gospel, in order for the whole gospel to save them. What is in play is a kind of half-understanding. A whole gospel can save a sinner with a half-understanding of it, because it’s not a perfect faith that saves, but a perfect Savior! Indeed, none of us justified sinners will perfectly understand the total fullness of the gospel until the day our blessed hope is fulfilled, when we finally see our Savior face to face and finally know him as he knows us (1 Cor. 13:12). But it’s worth exploring more and more of this fullness on this side, isn’t it? Especially since knowing more and more of the glory of Christ in his gospel is actually how we grow more and more into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).
Here’s what usually happens: We hear the announcement that God loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to take at the cross the punishment of death owed to them for that sin and then to rise again after three days to secure the blessing of everlasting life. We repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ. We are legitimately and eternally justified. We’ve heard the fine point of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4) and it is more than enough to save us. But then we begin going about our new life in Christ without some very important information.
Here’s the problem: When Christians know only the news of the forgiveness of sins at conversion, they start their Christian walk believing they must maintain as much sinlessness as possible to remain in the grace that saved them. They may not necessarily believe that intellectually, but without some more key facts about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they may spiritually and emotionally drift into that defeated way of thinking.
Here’s what’s missing: Christians do not simply receive forgiveness of sins at their conversion—as wonderful as that is!—but also the imputed righteousness of Christ. This means that God doesn’t just reckon us guiltless; God also considers us innocent. Not just innocent, however. As innocent as Christ! In fact, the doctrine of imputed righteousness means that God considers Jesus’ perfect obedience our perfect obedience.
“He made the one who did not know sin to be sinfor us,” Paul writes, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This verse teaches a double imputation. At the cross, our sin is imputed to Christ, as if it were his. He was made to be sin for us. But also at the cross, his righteousness is imputed to us, as if it were ours. In him, we become the righteousness of God.