Justification According to Rome

This excerpt is adapted from Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is always at risk of distortion. It became distorted in the centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. It became distorted at innumerable other points of church history, and it is often distorted today. This is why Martin Luther said the gospel must be defended in every generation. It is the center point of attack by the forces of evil. They know that if they can get rid of the gospel, they can get rid of Christianity.

There are two sides to the gospel, the good news of the New Testament: an objective side and a subjective side. The objective content of the gospel is the person and work of Jesus—who He is and what He accomplished in His life. The subjective side is the question of how the benefits of Christ’s work are appropriated to the believer. There the doctrine of justification comes to the fore.

Many issues were involved in the Reformation, but the core matter, the material issue of the Reformation, was the gospel, especially the doctrine of justification. There was no great disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church authorities and the Protestant Reformers about the objective side. All the parties agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God and of the Virgin Mary, and that He lived a life of perfect obedience, died on the cross in an atoning death, and was raised from the grave. The battle was over the second part of the gospel, the subjective side, the question of how the benefits of Christ are applied to the believer.

The Reformers believed and taught that we are justified by faith alone. Faith, they said, is the sole instrumental cause for our justification. By this they meant that we receive all the benefits of Jesus’ work through putting our trust in Him alone.

The Roman communion also taught that faith is a necessary condition for salvation. At the seminal Council of Trent (1545–1563), which formulated Rome’s response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic authorities declared that faith affords three things: the initium, the fundamentum, and the radix. That is, faith is the beginning of justification, the foundation for justification, and the root of justification. But Rome held that a person can have true faith and still not be justified, because there was much more to the Roman system.

In reality, the Roman view of the gospel, as expressed at Trent, was that justification is accomplished through the sacraments. Initially, the recipient must accept and cooperate in baptism, by which he receives justifying grace. He retains that grace until he commits a mortal sin. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because it kills the grace of justification. The sinner then must be justified a second time. That happens through the sacrament of penance, which the Council of Trent defined as “a second plank” of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.

The fundamental difference was this. Trent said that God does not justify anyone until real righteousness inheres within the person. In other words, God does not declare a person righteous unless he or she is righteous. So, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification depends on a person’s sanctification. By contrast, the Reformers said justification is based on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus. The only ground by which a person can be saved is Jesus’ righteousness, which is reckoned to him when he believes.

There were radically different views of salvation. They could not be reconciled. One of them was the gospel. One of them was not. Thus, what was at stake in the Reformation was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though the Council of Trent made many fine affirmations of traditional truths of the Christian faith, it declared justification by faith alone to be anathema, ignoring many plain teachings of Scripture, such as Romans 3:28: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Calvin on Justification, Faith and Works

Article: Justification, Faith and Works: Calvin on Ezekiel 18:17
by R. B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (original source here).

A passage from Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel 18:14-17 has the distinction of being among the last, perhaps the last, of his comments on the relationship among justification, faith and works. Apparently written shortly before his death in 1564, it is perhaps as pointed as any of his comments on their interrelationship and so, highly instructive concerning his matured understanding. An excerpt of some length from his comments on verse 17 is provided here, because, seen in its immediate context, it needs to be read carefully and digested (bolding added). Note that when Calvin speaks here of “works” he clearly has in view, as the plural shows, the believer’s good works or obedience done over time, in other words, seen in terms of God’s work in the believer, sanctification as ongoing or progressive, what he regularly includes elsewhere with “regeneration,” a word he uses in a broader sense than later Reformed theology.

When therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. Thus it still remains true, that faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies is true and yet false, according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition, that faith without works justifies by itself, is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause “without works” is joined with the word “justifies,” the proposition will be true. Therefore faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says (1 John v. 18). Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from his heat: yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God, and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only-begotten Son.

Taken by itself, Calvin considers the statement “faith without works justifies” to be ambiguous. It “needs prudence and sound interpretation”; it is “true yet false,” depending on the way it is read. Pinpointed grammatically, Calvin is saying:

When the prepositional phrase “without works” is taken adverbially, that is, as modifying the verb “justifies,” then the statement “faith without works justifies,” is true;
When “without works” is taken adjectivally, that is, with the noun “faith,” that is, “without-works faith,” then the same statement is false.

“Without-works” faith (alone-faith) Calvin asserts, does not justify, “because faith without works is void.” Again he says, “faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead and a mere fiction.” He is saying in effect, to focus the balance of his remarks: “faith, with its works, justifies without works”; or also, “with-works faith (or “not-without-works faith”) justifies without works.” Alone-faith does not justify, but justification is by faith alone; faith is the alone instrument of justification.

In this passage Calvin is on the proverbial razor’s edge, where we occasionally find ourselves in sound theologizing faithful to Scripture. Certainly, he is not saying here what he emphatically and repeatedly denies elsewhere, that I must do a certain amount of good works or obey God for a certain amount of time before I can be justified or be sure that I am justified. Rather, his comments highlight that even in its initial exercise justifying faith is inherently disposed to obedience and good works, which are bound to come to expression, however imperfectly, over time. His point is what is expressed later in the Westminster Confession, namely that faith as “the alone instrument of justification” is “not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love”; or, more importantly, Paul’s characterization of justifying faith as “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6; alluded to and cited as Scriptural support by the Confession at this point).

Here, in a particularly striking and instructive way, Calvin accents how inseparable, yet distinct, good works are from faith as the alone instrument of justification. This is fully in keeping with what he emphasizes in many other places, perhaps most notably at the beginning of his magisterial treatment of justification in the Institutes. With the application of redemption as the large, overall concern of Book Three, he had previously discussed sanctification (“regeneration”) and in considerable length (3:3-10). Why did he order his material in this way, treating sanctification before justification? “The theme of justification was therefore more lightly touched upon because it was more to the point to understand first how little devoid of good works is the faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God; and what is the nature of the good works of the saints, with which part of this question [justification] is concerned” (3:11:1).

Such works–it is surely true to Calvin to add–are necessary as “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively [that is, justifying] faith” (WCF, 16:2).

Justification by Faith Alone

Dr. Michael Reeves:

Justification by faith was the matter of the Reformation five hundred years ago, but does it matter in the same way today? This talk will unpack what Luther discovered in Scripture, consider some contemporary challenges, and help us stand firm in proclaiming good news of freedom and joy.

PDF File Notes:

Is Justification Forensic?

Article by Turretinfan: Is Justification Forensic?

Some opponents of reformation theology attempt to deny that the term justification can be used in the context of declaration of righteousness, as opposed to infusion of righteousness. For those folks, the passages that contrast justification with condemnation should help. Surely none of these people will think that condemnation is the infusion of unrighteousness. Rather, they will recognize that condemnation is a judicial declaration of unrighteousness.

By contrast, therefore, it can be seen that justification is a declaration of righteousness. We see this several times in Scripture, both in the English of the KJV, as well as in the Clementine Latin Vulgate, so our Roman Catholic opponents have no room to complain:

1 Kings 8:32
(KJV) Then hear thou in heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.
(CLV) tu exaudies in cælo : et facies, et judicabis servos tuos, condemnans impium, et reddens viam suam super caput ejus, justificansque justum, et retribuens ei secundum justitiam suam.
(LXX) καὶ σὺ εἰσακούσει ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ποιήσεις καὶ κρινεῖς τὸν λαόν σου Ισραηλ ἀνομηθῆναι ἄνομον δοῦναι τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ εἰς κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον δοῦναι αὐτῷ κατὰ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ.

Job 9:20
(KJV) If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.
(CLV) Si justificare me voluero, os meum condemnabit me ; si innocentem ostendero, pravum me comprobabit.
(LXX) ἐὰν γὰρ ὦ δίκαιος, τὸ στόμα μου ἀσεβήσει· ἐάν τε ὦ ἄμεμπτος, σκολιὸς ἀποβήσομαι.

Proverbs 17:15
(KJV) He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.
(CLV) Qui justificat impium, et qui condemnat justum, abominabilis est uterque apud Deum.
(LXX) ὃς δίκαιον κρίνει τὸν ἄδικον, ἄδικον δὲ τὸν δίκαιον, ἀκάθαρτος καὶ βδελυκτὸς παρὰ θεῷ.

Matthew 12:37
(KJV) For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
(CLV) Ex verbis enim tuis justificaberis et ex verbis tuis condemnaberis.
(NA28) ἐκ γὰρ τῶν λόγων σου δικαιωθήσῃ, καὶ ἐκ τῶν λόγων σου καταδικασθήσῃ.

Romans 5:16
(KJV) And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
(CLV) Et non sicut per unum peccatum, ita et donum. Nam judicium quidem ex uno in condemnationem : gratia autem ex multis delictis in justificationem.
(NA28) καὶ οὐχ ὡς δι’ ἑνὸς ἁμαρτήσαντος τὸ δώρημα· τὸ μὲν γὰρ κρίμα ἐξ ἑνὸς εἰς κατάκριμα, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα ἐκ πολλῶν παραπτωμάτων εἰς δικαίωμα.

Romans 5:18
(KJV) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
(CLV) Igitur sicut per unius delictum in omnes homines in condemnationem : sic et per unius justitiam in omnes homines in justificationem vitæ.
(NA28) Ἄρα οὖν ὡς δι’ ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα, οὕτως καὶ δι’ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς·

Simul Justus Et Peccator

Joyce Meyer denies she is a sinner.

I’m with Dr. R. C. Sproul on this. Here he explains the essence of the Reformation view of justification and Martin Luther’s latin phrase, “Simul Justus et Peccator.”

Transcript

Perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et peccator. And if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously. Or, it means ‘at the same time.’ Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et the past tense of the verb ‘to eat.’ Have you et your dinner? No, you know that’s not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he’s been stabbed by Brutus he says, “Et tu, Brute?” Then fall Caesar. And you too Brutus? It simply means and. Peccator means sinner.

And so with this formula Luther was saying, in our justification we are one and the same time righteous or just, and sinners. Now if he would say that we are at the same time and in the same relationship just and sinners that would be a contradiction in terms. But that’s not what he was saying. He was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from a different perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines that is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.

Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I had to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I would completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed. But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, then we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel. The good news is simply this, I can be reconciled to God, I can be justified by God not on the basis of what I did, but on the basis of what’s been accomplished for me by Christ.

But at the heart of the gospel is a double-imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God, Who does not negotiate sin, Who doesn’t compromise His own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really after it has been imputed to Jesus, retains His own righteousness, and so He is both just and the justifier, as the apostle tells us here. So my sin goes to Jesus, His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God.

What Does "Simul Justus et Peccator" Mean? from Ligonier Ministries on Vimeo.

For more on this theme – here is Dr. John MacArthur:

Christ Did It All

This excerpt is adapted from Stephen Nichols’ contribution in The Legacy of Luther.

Nestled along the Rhine River, Heidelberg was the site for the General Chapter, or assembly, of the Augustinian Order in May 1518. Staupitz, the general vicar (or head) of the order, seized this moment for Luther to speak to the crisis caused by the Ninety-Five Theses. Luther responded by drafting a new set of theses, the Twenty-Eight Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation. Though far less known than the theses nailed to the church door, these theses are the most important text during this period of Luther’s development. At one point in his life, Luther would declare, “Crux sola est nostra theologia,” meaning, “The cross alone is our theology.” That singular expression crystalizes what Luther was aiming at in the Twenty-Eight Theses at Heidelberg. Before enumerating the theses, Luther wrote a short introductory paragraph as a preface. The preface is essential for understanding the work as a whole. Luther starts off by noting that he distrusts “completely our own wisdom,” and so he relies on and draws from “St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.”

The Latin expression ad fontes, “to the sources,” served as the Renaissance battle cry. It meant going back to the originals, or the fountainheads. This can be seen in the revival of Greco-Roman architecture and art. It can be seen in the desire to read Plato and Aristotle directly, instead of reading layers of medieval interpretations of Plato and Aristotle. In theology, it meant reading the Bible, and Augustine too, rather than reading layers of commentary on the primary sources. Ad fontes of the Renaissance is mirrored in the counterpart sola Scriptura of the Reformation. Luther’s short preface declares the sources of his teaching—Paul and Augustine. He also admits—and we need to see this—that the hearers and readers of the Twenty-Eight Theses will have to determine how “well or poorly” Luther deduced them from Paul and Augustine. Luther’s source, however, was the fountainhead. It was the “source” that led him to see how wrong the practice of penance became back in October 1517. The more Luther looked to the sources, the more wrong he saw in the church of his day.

After the short paragraph preface comes the Twenty-Eight Theses. They compare and contrast what Luther calls a “theologian of glory” and a “theologian of the cross.” Typically, we associate glory, especially the glory of God, with good things. In this case, however, Luther sees a theologian of glory as a bad thing. A theologian of glory is the same as the false prophet who declares peace in thesis 92 of the Ninety-Five Theses. In Heidelberg thesis 21, Luther writes, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.” In using the term glory, Luther is talking about the inane idea that humanity itself has its own glory, or that humanity has the ability to please God and to perform righteousness. This idea leads the theologian of glory to disdain God’s grace. Divine grace is the good thing that a theologian of glory calls evil. In short, the theologian of glory exults in human ability and in works-righteousness. Standing in contrast to the theologian of glory is the theologian of the cross. The theologian of the cross starts with us—more specifically, with our misery. Thesis 18 reads, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” Consequently, thesis 25 informs us, “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

The theologian of glory actually does far worse than call grace evil. The theologian of glory, the one who trusts in human ability and trusts in the accumulation of merits and works, actually despises Christ. Then, in the last of the Twenty-Eight Theses, Martin Luther writes what very well may be the most beautiful sentence he ever wrote: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” The love of God will never find anything pleasing to it in us, because we are all sinners who are unrighteous and utterly distasteful to the Holy God. And so, God makes us righteous. He (re)creates us.

Many years later, in 1545, Luther reflected on his conversion, and offered up an extraordinary account of this event, one that hinges on understanding the difference between the active and the passive. So, Luther tells us:

Meanwhile, I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skilful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

This is the gospel. This is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The key here is that Luther is passive. Christ takes on his sin. Christ achieves righteousness, in His obedience in His life and in His death on the cross. This was Luther’s discovery. Christ did it. All of it.

Dr. John MacArthur on N.T. Wright

The following is a transcript from part of Dr. John MacArthur’s message “The Nonnegotiable Gospel” at the 2017 Ligonier National Conference.

“N.T. Wright has written hundreds and hundreds of pages on the gospel, and the more you read of it, the less you understand what he affirms. It is confusing, it is ambiguous, it is contradictory, it is obfuscation of the highest level: academic sleight-of-hand. But while I cannot figure out what it is that he does believe, even after hundreds of pages, it is crystal clear what he does NOT believe.

“More recently, he has written a book called The Day the Revolution Began, and in that book he says this: ‘We have paganized our understanding of salvation, substituting the idea of God killing Jesus to satisfy His wrath for the genuinely biblical notion that we are about to explore.’ So [according to Wright] all of us who believe in the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross have been worshiping a paganized perversion of biblical truth, now to be clarified by him.

“Another quote: ‘That Christ died in the place of sinners is closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than it is to anything in either Israel’s Scriptures or the New Testament.’ He’s clear on what he rejects; he rejects the substitutionary atonement of Christ, he rejects imputation, he rejects the gospel. He says to worship God as one who justifies by sacrifice and imputation is nonsense.

“Here’s a quote: ‘If we use the language of the law-court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not a substance, an object, or a gas, which can be passed across the courtroom. This gives the impression of a legal transaction, a kind of cold piece of business, almost a trick of thought performed by a God who is logical and correct, but hardly one we want to worship.’

“Christianity Today identified him as one of the five most significant Christian theologians of our day.

“He further says: ‘No one will be justified until he reaches Heaven.’

“One more painfully clear denial is in these words: ‘I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is NOT what Paul means by the gospel. The gospel is NOT an account of how people get saved.’ I have NO idea what he believes, but I know what he does NOT believe. He doesn’t believe the gospel, and he doesn’t believe the gospel is an account of how people get saved, in spite of the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 says, ‘Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel, which I preached to you, which you also reached, and in which you stand, and by which also you are saved.’

“N.T. Wright has just piled up high-sounding words, raised up against the knowledge of God, to be smashed by the truth: fortifications to be crushed under the force of the truth. What strikes me, though, is this: here is a man and those who follow him who seem to have no angst about their heresy, who seem more than content to offer themselves as the ones who have arrived at the solution 2,000 years after the New Testament, and who are happy to propagate it as far and wide as they can, lay down their head on the pillow at night, and go to sleep. Here are people who clearly [based on their teaching that ‘no one will be justified until he reaches Heaven’] are content to be in an UNJUSTIFIED state but have (apparently) little or no angst about the reality of their condition. They are still in the state of Luther before he understood the gospel, utterly void of the way to be right with God, but instead of feeling the pain that Luther felt, the anxiety that overwhelmed him, the agonies of Job, they’re comfortable: they’re content. They don’t really care whether works is the ultimate CAUSE of justification or the EVIDENCE of justification. It really doesn’t matter [to them]; it’s a very small, inconsequential issue to them. To be a heretic is one thing, to be a confident, happy heretic is quite another.

“The Apostle Paul, in dealing with the content of the gospel, was always profoundly exercised, as you know. He could barely endure any situation in which he felt the gospel was in any sense compromised at all… If there was any deviation at all from the foundations of the gospel, it was a terrifying reality to the Apostle Paul. He said to the Corinthians, ‘If you have at all deserted the simplicity that is in Christ for another Christ, another gospel, this is more than I can bear.’ People who know the true gospel and love the true gospel are people who have a true peace, a settled peace, and people who have a passion for its proper declaration on behalf of others.

“N.T. Wright’s influence is spreading rapidly. It continues to be very attractive. Novel theology’s always attractive. Many young theologians and pastors have been ‘drinking the Kool-Aid,’ and so the battle for the gospel still rages.”

***

N.T. Wright elsewhere makes this claim:

“… it makes no sense that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or gas that can be passed across the courtroom,” [N.T. Wright, The Shape of Justification, 98.]

Dr. John Piper (in response – [Counted Righteous in Christ, pages 63-64]):

Suppose I say to Barnabas, my teenage son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.” Suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up, and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences. No game.

To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit the clean room to your account because of your apology and submission. Before you left for school this morning I said, ‘You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.’ Well, your room is clean. So you can go to the game.”

That’s one way to say it, which corresponds to the language of Romans 4:6. Or I could say, “I credit your apology for a clean room,” which would correspond to the language of Romans 4:3. What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology for a clean room” is not that the apology is the clean room, nor that the clean room consists of the apology, nor that he really cleaned his room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of reckoning– in my grace– his apology connects him with the promise given for the clean room. The clean room is his clean room.

You can say it either way. Paul said it both ways: “Faith is imputed for righteousness” (4:3,9), and “God imputes righteousness to us [by faith]” (4:6,11). The reality intended in both cases is: I cleaned the room; he now has a cleaned room; he did not clean the room; he apologized for the failure; in pure grace I counted his apology as connecting him with the fulfilled command that I did for him; he received the imputed obedience as a gift.