It’d be crazy, right, if my next IRA report showed a generous stranger had credited $500,000 to my account. In Romans 4:22-25 Paul announces God has credited righteousness to us who believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for us.
That (crazy) good news falls mostly on deaf ears, though, since we presume we’re “okay” because we’re essentially “good”.
But even a cursory reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 demolishes that idea. In 1:18-31 Paul explains how we humans suppress the truth of God by our wickedness, and how God in his wrath gives us over to the horrible consequences of our God-less choices. In 2:1-3:8 he charges that even religious people fall short of God’s standard and face the day of God’s wrath. Finally, in 3:9-20, like a powerful prosecutor, he charges that we’re all sinners dominated by sin’s power. “None is righteous . . . no one does good!”
But in 3:21-31, with a big “But now”, Paul transforms into an old-fashioned newspaper boy shouting “Good News” on a street corner: we unrighteous, bad-doers can be right with God! Not by doing good, but by believing in the crucified Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (Again, this is good news only to people who believe 1:18-3:20 correctly describes our standing before God!)
In 4:1-21 Paul opens his Jewish Bible and presents the father of the Jews, Abraham, as the classic example of righteousness-by-faith. Now, here in 4:22-25, he applies the gospel of justification by faith to his readers in Rome, and to us.
“This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25)
“ . . . credited” is the key word. Paul repeats it three times in this little paragraph . . .
- Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness”
- “ . . . the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also”
- “It will be credited to us who believe in him . . . “
The original Greek word is logizomaiI, an accounting term. “Because you believe,” God says, “I’ll credit your account with righteousness.”
Paul adds further substance to this (crazy) good news by showing it’s not some New Testament oddity, but a solid Old Testament witness. Righteousness was credited to Abraham who believed God’s promise. That promise has been fulfilled in Christ. The foundation for justification by faith is Christ’s death on the cross. But, as Abraham bears witness, the promise of being right with God has always been by faith apart from works.
Here Paul adds a dynamic dimension to faith: it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” As God gave life to Sarah’s “dead” womb to birth Isaac, so he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. And by believing we are declared in right standing with God, though we are no more righteous than we were a minute before faith.
What, though, does Paul mean by Jesus “was raised to life for our justification”? He means that resurrection completed Jesus’ work of putting the ungodly into right-standing with God. Had Jesus remained in the tomb, all his claims would have been proven false. But resurrection is a sign . . .
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here'” (Matthew 12:38-41).
Resurrection signifies Jesus’ words are true, both about himself and his work. Therefore, resurrection “completes” his justifying work by signifying it is true. It also adds a new dimension to justification. It means not only that by faith we who are ungodly are declared to be in right-standing with God. It means also that we are standing in the risen Christ. His righteousness is ours.
* * *
For those who believe in the inherent goodness of man and that God’s okay with our being “okay”, this is only so much fanatical religious blather. We’ve evolved out of the idea that sin is, well, sinful. And talk about God’s wrath is likely to be met with bewilderment, at best.
I know soldiers lay down their lives for their buddies and strangers volunteer to help in hurricanes. But how can any thinking person look at today’s world and believe man is inherently good?
What we’re offered to believe is that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sin and was raised to life for our justification.” Ah, there’s the rub. To believe that is to admit we’re not inherently good–and that we can’t do anything to be good enough.
And to believe, as John Bunyan (17 century Puritan preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote “he found in his heart a secret inclining to unbelief . . . Against hope, against reason, against ‘feeling’, against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.”
God of all grace, help us.