imputation

Philippians 3

Today’s reading is Philippians 3.

In many of the places where Paul founded churches, he faced immediate opposition and follow-up opposition. Immediate opposition refers to the persecutions he faced from locals--sometimes Jewish, sometimes Gentile--who were opposed to the growing gospel message. We read about these frequently in the book of Acts. Although there was much opposition, God saved his chosen ones and a new church was founded.

“Follow-up opposition,” as I referred to it in the previous paragraph has to do with the infiltration of false teachers in the churches that were established. It is in Paul’s letters, not the book of Acts, where we learn about this type of opposition. There were different types of false teachers--for instance, the church at Ephesus faced a different kind of threat from false teachers than the church at Colossae faced. But one type of false teaching that these new churches faced was from a group that has been called “the Judaizers.” This was a group of Jewish people who would come to these Gentile churches. They would tell the new Gentile converts to Christ that the men had to be circumcised (ouch!) and all of them needed to start obeying the Law of Moses. Here in Philippians 2:2, Paul warned the Philippian church about this group when he said, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision....” The point of these words was to tell the believers that there was nothing deficient about their relationship to God. Christ fulfilled the Law so there was no need to be obedient to it any longer. We saw this in the remainder of verse 3 when we read, “it is we... who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” The phrase, “boast in Christ Jesus” is a short-hand way of speaking about how Christ has kept the law for us. Theologians call this “the active obedience of Christ” and, like his death (which they call his “passive obedience”) it is credited (imputed) to us at the time of our salvation. God wants his people to know that everything that was necessary for them to be right with God was fully accomplished in Christ. There is no act of positive obedience you must do to be declared right before God nor is there any personal sacrifice you must make to be declared right before God.

In verses 4-6 Paul described his personal religious credentials. More (v. 4b) than any Judaizer who might come to Philippi, Paul was religiously qualified under Judaism to obtain “righteousness based on the law” (v. 6b). But in verses 7-11, Paul described how being justified by faith in Christ was so much better than the (theoretical) righteousness a law abiding Jew might think he has. He wrote in verse 9 that he wanted to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Because of this salvation by faith, he pursued knowing Christ and living for him (vv. 10-14) as all mature believers should (v. 15).

Today there are groups who call themselves Christians but emphasize the need to obey the Law. Some of these people are Jewish; others (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Catholics) are simply legalistic. Many people find a feeling of spirituality by performing rituals and rites or by obedience to some Old Testament dietary command. But the books of the New Testament--and this chapter is an excellent example--teach clearly that Christ has done everything you ever need to be right with God. Obedience to him is a matter of loving service, not a matter of earning his favor. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you need faith in Jesus plus something else--some ritual or obedience to some command. Christ is all we need and in him is hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge. Our goal as believers, then, is “to know him” (v. 10). That’s what the Christian life is all about.

Luke 7

Here’s a link where you can read Luke 7 to stay on schedule to read the New Testament this year.

Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John--in prison--heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27). After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what people thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.

But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “...yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived, according to Jesus. Why is this true?

The answer is that John--great as he was--was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are not sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.

The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner. That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed--credited--Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it. On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.

This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done. Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.

Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you the credit of Christ’s perfection. So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.

2 Chronicles 18, Revelation 7, Zechariah 3, John 6

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 18, Revelation 7, Zechariah 3, John 6. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Zechariah 3.

One of the most important truths people need to grasp in order to understand our salvation is the concept of “imputation.” Imputation is a theological name for the truth that our salvation is given to us--imputed to us or credited to us--by God. God declares us to be not guilty and righteous in his sight even though we are actually guilty and unrighteous. 

Zechariah 3 gives us a clear picture to help us understand imputation. In verse 1 a man named Joshua is facing the angel of the Lord but Satan is standing next to Joshua also. Verse 1 tells us that Joshua is “the high priest.” This indicates that he represents the whole nation; that’s what the high priest does when he goes to offer the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. 

Satan stood next to Joshua “to accuse him.” He was ready to bring up every sin he’d ever committed in order to show that he was not a holy man but one who deserved God’s punishment. In verse 2, however, the Lord rebuked Satan and then said this, “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” That statement indicates that Joshua has been saved. He was in the fire, about to be consumed for his sins, but the Lord snatched him from that judgment.

However, he was still burning because the Lord said, “Is not this man a burning stick....” So he had been rescued for the moment, but was still deserving of punishment. Verse 3 changes the imagery and notes that Joshua was “dressed in filthy clothes.” This was another way of conveying his guilt. In verse 4, the angel of the Lord decreed that his filthy clothes be exchanged for “fine garments” that the Lord would put on him. The meaning of this exchange: “I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” God imputed righteousness to him as symbolized by his rescue from the fire and the exchange of his robes.

After completing the clothing change for Joshua (v. 5) and charging him to live obediently to the Lord (vv. 6-7), the Lord explained the meaning of this vision. First, he told them that this was about things in the future: “...who are men symbolic of things to come...” (v. 8). In the future, then, the Lord promised, “I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.... and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (vv. 8-9).

This is what God has done for us in Christ. He rescued us from certain destruction and exchanged our guilt for his righteousness. And this is prophesied in the Old Testament because this is what God always intended. Israel never kept his laws because sinners are incapable of keeping the law of God without God’s gracious work in our lives. If you’ve come to know Jesus, “the Branch,” by faith, then no matter what you’ve done in your life or how guilty you feel, God silences the accusations of Satan against you and you stand before him perfect. This perfection came to you by imputation, when God credited to filthy sinners like you and me the perfect righteousness of Christ. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 13, Psalms 15–16, Proverbs 27, 2 Thessalonians 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 13, Psalms 15–16, Proverbs 27, 2 Thessalonians 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalm 15.

There is nothing that starts off the day quite like a detailed, lengthy chapter describing God’s will regarding a defiling disease on your skin and defiling mold in your house! Stick with these tough readings in Leviticus; their importance will become clear in a few chapters and I’ll talk at that point about why it was so important to God to include all of this in his holy word.

For now, though, let’s turn our attention to Psalm 15. When I was in high school I read a devotional by Charles Swindoll where he described this chapter as “The Gentleman’s Psalm.” I don’t think that was original with him, nor do I think it is a very good description of what is going on in this song of David. For starters, the opening verse does not frame this song as a describing the ideal man or the person everyone wants to be friends with; it begins by telling us that this is who God wants to be friends with. Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” In other words, what kind of person would God want hanging around all the time? Or, to put it another way, how do you become someone who is truly godly and practices the presence of God in your life?

Verse 2 a-b says that it starts by living a righteous life. This refers to your actions and habits. Being “blameless” means that anyone who surveils you will find nothing to disqualify you before God. The second line of verse 2, “who does what is righteous” clarifies the meaning of “blamelessness.” Not only will you be a godly person if you do not sin, but you will also be considered godly if you’re someone who makes a positive moral contribution to the world. A godly person, one like God, is holy and helpful.

Verses 2c-3 tell us that the friend of God is someone who is pure in how they use words. They speak truthfully “from the heart” (v. 2c), indicating a sincerity that will cause you not to shade the truth so that others will like you or deliver the truth in a harsh, unloving way that wounds another person unnecessarily. Verse 3 continues the theme by saying a godly life is one that is not damaging or destructive to others, either in word or action. 

Not that you merely accept everyone uncritically, because verse 4a says that, as God’s friend, you will value those who fear God and reject (as friends) those who have rejected God. 
Rounding out the description of the godly is a perfect commitment to your promises, covenants, and obligations (v. 4b), generosity toward those who are poor (v. 5a), and honesty and integrity in court (v. 5b).

This is quite an impressive description and lays out qualities that we all should aspire to be true in our lives. But David does not say these are things to aspire to; he says that they  are true of the one who is God’s friend. And, that is the problem; nobody’s perfect in all of these areas and an objective critic of your life who watches you closely enough might even find fault with you in areas you thought were OK. Instead of being an encouraging checklist to follow, meditation on this passage will make us deeply aware of how many areas exists where we fall short of God and how frequently we do fall short of him. God does not want friends who earned their way into his favor by good works; he’s never wanted that. He wants children who do good works because they share his nature. What you are by nature determines how you act naturally. And, by nature, none of us is a godly person or even a gentleman/woman. This is why Christ is so important and so precious to us. He became the godly man we could never be. He walked blamelessly by nature and authentically did what was righteous, speaking the truth always but always in love. Jesus never damaged anyone either in word or in action but he wasn’t uncritically accepting of everyone either. He fulfilled every commitment he ever made, fed the hungry poor and even healed their diseases without ever compromising to impress or favor the rich and powerful. And, by grace, we get credit for this, the active righteousness of Christ. We can live on God’s holy mountain because Jesus earned the right for us to live there and God by grace accepted his merits on our behalf. Plus, by his power, through his spirit and word, through trials, rebuke, and repentance, God is growing the new nature in each of us so that we DO operate this way by nature as children of God by regeneration. So be secure in what Christ has given to you while cooperating with God’s holy work in your life, making you into the man or woman Christ declared you to be when you trusted in him.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.