When the Lord Does Not Take Account of Sin
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 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 CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT."
"Blessing" – What Is It?
As we move section by section through the chapters in Romans, don't forget that they are the unfolding of the flower of the gospel. And gospel means good news. And good news is designed to lift burdens and give joy and make strong. And that connects to the word "blessing" in verse 6 and "blessed" in verse 7 and verse 8. "Blessed" (makarios) means "a condition where you are deeply secure and content and happy in God."
I put it like that because you can be "makarios" – blessed – and in miserable circumstances. "Blessed (makarios) are you," Jesus said, "when they insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12). So "blessed are you" does not mean "untroubled are you" or "healthy are you" or "admired are you" or "prosperous are you." It means "between you and God all is well." You are deeply secure, profoundly content, happy in God – even if you are weeping over the pain of a struck body, a perplexed mind, or a heartbreaking relationship.
So don't lose sight of this as we move through Romans. This is the unfolding of the gospel – the good news. It's designed to lift burdens and give joy and make strong. This is so basic. And yet how easily we forget it. Romans is about good news designed to make you "blessed" – deeply secure and content and happy in God.
Good News of God's Righteousness
To make sure you see this, look with me at Romans 1:16-17 again – the banner that flies over this whole book: "I am not ashamed of the gospel – the good news – for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The gospel is good news about salvation. So Paul explains in Chapters 1-3 what we need salvation from – the guilt of our sin and the justice of God's wrath.
And how is it that we who have sinned and insulted God's glory so badly can be saved from the sentence of condemnation that we deserve from God? Romans 1:17 tells us what it is about the gospel that makes it the power of God unto salvation: "For in it – in the gospel – the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." The gospel saves because it is the good news that God's righteousness is revealed to be received by faith.
Now what does that mean? How does that work? That's where we are in Romans right now. The last part of chapter 3 and all of chapters 4 and 5 are Paul's explanation of Romans 1:17 – the revelation of the righteousness of God as the basis of the good news that lifts your burdens, gives you joy, and makes you strong. The revelation of the righteousness of God is the basis of this "blessedness" in Romans 4:7-8 – the state of being deeply secure and content and happy in God.
Now how does this work? We need righteousness to be acceptable to God. But we don't have it. What we have is sin. So God has what we need and don't deserve – righteousness; and we have what God hates and rejects – sin. What is the answer? The answer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died in our place. God lays our sins on Christ and punishes them in him. And in Christ's obedient death, God fulfills and vindicates his righteousness and imputes (credits) it to us. Our sin on Christ, his righteousness on us.
Good News of Christ's Righteousness
We can hardly stress too much that Christ is God's answer. It is all owing to Christ. You can't love Christ too much. You can't think about him too much or thank him too much or depend upon him too much. All our justification, all our righteousness, is in Christ. Listen to a few other passages.
2 Corinthians 5:21 – "[God] made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (God's righteousness becomes ours in Christ.)
Philippians 3:8-9 – "I count everything as rubbish that I may . . . be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
1 Corinthians 1:30 – "It is from God that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness. . . ."
Romans 8:1 – "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (See also Romans 5:19.)
Don't separate God's righteousness and Christ's righteousness. Think of the relation this way. God's righteousness was revealed in the faithful obedience of Christ even unto death. Therefore, Christ's righteousness is God's righteousness revealed. Therefore, to be in Christ is to be in God's righteousness.
So what is the answer to why the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? And why does the gospel lift burdens and give joy and make strong? It's because the gospel is the good news that our sins are laid on Christ and his righteousness is laid on us. The great exchange. The great imputation of our sin to Christ and God's righteousness to us – called justification.
Good News of Justification by Faith Alone
Now what Paul is exulting over, here in Romans 4, is that this justification is not based on works, but on faith alone. He is so thrilled with this part of the gospel that he takes all of chapter 4 to drive it into our hearts by using Abraham and David from the Old Testament to make his point: all our sins are imputed to Christ, and all God's righteousness is imputed to us by faith alone apart from works!
The point of last week's message comparing James 2 with Romans 4 was to show that faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is alive and does not remain alone, but works through love. The works do not justify. The works are the fruit of the faith which alone unites us to Christ, whose righteousness is our unchanging hope.
But we are in Romans 4 and I want to exult with Paul while he exults in justification by faith alone. Our text is verses 6-8. It begins with the words, "Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works." So you can see what he is focusing on here: "apart from works." God's crediting (or reckoning or imputing) his righteousness to us is not a tallying up of our good works minus our sins and then concluding that we have enough good works to be acquitted. No. Righteousness is credited to our account "apart from works." Works will follow from justification, but works do not obtain justification.
Notice the words "Just as David also speaks" at the beginning of verse 6. The words "just as" mean that Paul sees in David's Psalm 32, which he is about to quote, the same thing that he just expressed in verse 5. Review it with me to see how this all fits together. "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."
Recall from two weeks ago the three evidences in this verse that justification is by faith alone apart from works. 1) "To the one who does not work." That rules out working as part of obtaining justification. 2) God "justifies the ungodly." Justification happens while we are still ungodly before there can be any good works. There can't be any good works involved in obtaining justification because there is no such thing as a good work that does not come from faith (Romans 14:23), and once faith has been given to us by God, justification happens immediately. So there is no place for good works to become a cause. 3) "Faith is credited as righteousness." Not faith plus his works, or works instead of his faith, but simply his faith is credited as righteousness. That is, God views the complete dependence on Christ for righteousness as the receiving of that righteousness. If you depend on it alone, it's yours completely.
That is why Paul is exulting here. This is an essential and glorious part of the gospel. Here is the good news that lifts burdens and gives joy and makes strong. We get right with God by faith alone.
Good News of Sin Not Credited to Us
Now in verses 6-8 Paul does something a little surprising. Up till now he has been defining justification as the positive reckoning of God's righteousness to us. But now he adds to the definition the non-reckoning of sins. God's righteousness is credited to us; our sins are not credited to us. Both are essential. We have to get God's righteousness, and we have to get rid of our unrighteousness. But what is surprising is how Paul says that God's not crediting our sin to us is connected with his crediting of righteousness to us.
Look at this carefully. Verse 6 says that "David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works." But the quotation from Psalm 32:1-2 doesn't say that – that God "credits righteousness" to us. It says that God does not credit sin to us.
Here's the quote from Psalm 32:1-2 in verse Romans 4:7-8. "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." You see that last phrase: "the Lord will not take into account." The word there is the same as the word for "credit" or "reckon" in verses 3, 4, 5, and 6. So verse 8 is saying, "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not credit – will not reckon, will not lay to his account, will not impute to him.
So to see the surprising connection boil the text down to verses 6 and 8: "David speaks a blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works" and here's the blessing that David speaks (verse 8): "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not credit." One thing is sure from this surprising connection: Paul does not see justification as the imputation of righteousness alone or as the forgiveness of sin alone. For him forgiveness of sin must include the positive imputation of God's righteousness. And the imputation of God's righteousness must include the forgiveness of sin. And the blessedness of both conditions is that each is "apart from works."
Forgiveness is not obtained by works, and righteousness is not obtained by works. Both are obtained by faith alone "apart from works," as verse 6 says: the blessing that David speaks is "apart from works." Where in Psalm 32 does Paul see that sin is forgiven and righteousness is credited "apart from works"? He does not say. But it may be verse 10, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him." The opposite of being wicked is trusting the Lord – depending on the Lord. So the righteousness of the Psalmist is by faith. However Paul sees it, this is his teaching, and we may rejoice in it.
Which is a good place to close – where we began, with the focus on the gospel as good news which is designed to lift burdens and give joy and make strong. Which relates to this word "blessing" in verse 6 and "blessed" in verses 7 and 8. "Blessed": a condition where you are deeply secure and content and happy in God. Blessed are you when God credits his righteousness to you. Blessed are you when God does not credit your sin to you. Blessed are you when Christ takes your sins and you take his righteousness. Blessed are you when you wake up to the breathtaking truth that all this blessing is "apart from works," and that all you can do to get it is depend on Christ alone for it.
Blessing – "The Joy of the Lord Is Your Strength"
Please don't miss the note that I am striking today. It is triggered by the word "blessed." God wants you to see that his work and his Word are aiming at your happiness. The gospel is good news. He's not aiming at your ease or your comfort or your prosperity in this world. He is aiming at your present and everlasting joy. The reason Paul labors to unfold the truth of justification by faith is so that your joy will be so well grounded in God that it is unshakable. Doctrine stands in the service of delight. That is what I see in this word "blessed." Doctrine for the mind is designed to produce joy in the heart.
And the reason I have said over and over that the design of the gospel is to lift burdens and give joy and make strong, is because I read this week in Nehemiah 8:10, "the joy of the Lord is your strength." And, O, how we need strength. There are so many things in life that threaten to simply overwhelm us. One tragedy after another in this reeling world: a Jewish Center shooting in LA; violence in Belfast; a massacre in a mosque in Kenya; sponsored paganism on college campuses; the birth a child who lives six days instead of sixty years; lupus; leukemia; cancer; financial woes; and untold heartaches that no one ever hears about.
Do you see how justification by faith alone gives joy and strength in these times? Does it not fill you with joy and peace that your righteousness is not your own, but God's? And your sins are not on you, but on the cross of Christ! And your duty is not to merit or deserve Christ, but to depend on Christ. Does this not make you glad and give you stability in unstable days? O, you who do not know this peace and this joy and this strength, leave behind your foolish distractions and come to Christ. Come to Christ!
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