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Paul Proves the Gospel from the Old Testament - Part 3

Tom Pennington • Romans 4:1-8

  • 2016-10-09 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Today it's our joy to come back to Romans 4. I want to begin by reading for you the paragraph that we're studying together, as Paul continues his argument here in this magnificent letter. Romans 4, let me read beginning in verse 1 down through verse 8. It's so important that as we read the Scripture together we remember that these are not human words. God says, these are My words, they are breathed out of My mouth, as surely as the words I'm speaking now are the product of my own breath. So hear the words of God Himself to us.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And who sins have been covered.
"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."

That paragraph begins Paul's biblical defense of the gospel that he preached. In this fourth chapter Paul set out to prove to the Romans and to us, that justification by faith alone is found in the Scripture. And for him, of course, that meant what we call the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the Old Testament proves that justification by faith alone has always been the only way to be right with God. Paul cites two Old Testament examples to prove this. His primary example in chapter 4 is Abraham, and he'll spend most of the chapter focusing on Abraham and his justification. His secondary and supporting example is David, and he'll only spend three verses, verses 6, 7, and 8, developing this second example.

Now, as Paul unfolds his Old Testament defense of justification, using primarily the story of Abraham, and specifically Genesis 15:6 as his text, he addresses three important questions. Today, Lord willing, we will finish Paul's answer to the first important question about justification, a question that is made clear and an answer that's made clear, by Abraham's example. And the question is this, on what basis are we made right with God? Verses 1 through 8 answer that question.

Now, a couple of weeks ago, we noticed and reviewed it last week, that in verses 1 to 3 he identifies the basis of justification. Paul begins his Old Testament defense of the gospel by asking a simple question in verse 1. Regarding the central question of how a man is made right, or just, before God, what did our forefather Abraham discover? What did Abraham find in answer to this question?

Now, Paul's answer to that question comes in two parts. First of all, in verse 2 he makes it clear that the basis of justification cannot be our own works because that would allow human beings to boast before God. And to Paul, verse 2, that is impossible and unthinkable. It just can't happen. We can't, in any way, contribute or we can stand before God and take some credit, and Paul says that will never be, it will never happen. No one will ever be able to do that before God.

The second part of his answer to the question in verse 1 comes in verse 3 and that is, that the basis of justification cannot be works because it is contrary to the Scripture. Notice verse 3, "what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.'"

Now, if you weren't here last week, I urge you to go back and listen to that message because, really, that message and the truths we looked at from Galatians 3 are absolutely foundational to understanding the rest of Romans 4. I'm not going to go back through all of that, let me just give you a brief synopsis.

As we examined at length, from Galatians 3 and from the Old Testament, when it says "'Abraham believed God,'" Paul means specifically that Abraham believed the same gospel that we believe, but in a basic and more rudimentary form. According to Galatians3, Abraham believed the good news that through one of his descendants, the seed, singular, that is, the Messiah, God would bring spiritual blessing and salvation to those who believe like Abraham, even though they deserve condemnation. That's what Abraham believed. Abraham believed God. He believed that basic gospel promise.

And in response to, listen very carefully to my words here, in response to Abraham's faith, but not because of Abraham's faith, God credited righteousness to him, God put righteousness into Abraham's account, that's what the word credit means. He posted righteousness to his ledger and treated him as if he were. So, Abraham then was justified, verses 1 to 3 make it clear, not by his works, but rather by God's grace. That's the basis of our justification identified.

Now, in the rest of the chapter, Paul goes on to preach what amounts to an expository sermon on Genesis 15:6. In verse 3 he identifies the basis of justification. In verses 4 and 5, last week, we also saw the basis of justification explained. In verses 4 and 5 Paul compares and contrasts the two ways that righteousness could have been credited to Abraham. When something's put into your account, there are two ways that could happen. Option number one, that Paul considers for the sake of argument, is that the righteousness God credited to Abraham was righteousness that Abraham earned and deserved. Look at verse 4, "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." That's just a simple illustration from everyday life.

You understand this, this happens constantly with our jobs. I think the key word in verse 4 is that word translated favor. It's the normal Greek New Testament word for grace. When you get paid for working, Paul says, it's not grace, it's what you earned. Paul's point is that if Abraham was justified by his works, then when God credited righteousness to him it was not credited on the basis of grace, but it had to be credited on the basis of debt, God's obligation, what Abraham had earned. And Paul just understands, that's impossible. That cannot be how Abraham was declared righteous before God, because it would give him opportunity to boast, verse 2.

In addition, it doesn't fit Abraham's experience. Remember, when God found Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees and called him to himself, Abraham was probably an idolater. And even if he wasn't an idolater, he was, according to Romans 3, like every other human being, a sinner. So, it couldn't have been on the basis of his works. In addition, this idea of his being justified by his works, him earning and deserving righteousness, that doesn't fit what the text says. Look at verse 3 again, Genesis 15:6 says, Abraham did not work, but instead "'believed God and God credited righteousness to him.'" So, Paul says, listen, this first option won't work. It's impossible.

So, then he goes to the second option. If something gets credited to your account, one way it gets in there is if you earn it and deserve it. Paul says, that didn't happen with Abraham, it's not going to happen with you. Option number two is the righteousness God credited to Abraham was unearned and undeserved. And this is what he says is reality. Notice verse 5, "But to the one who does not work," notice the contrast, "doesn't work, but believes," "believes in Him who justifies," or declares righteous, "the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Now, the main point of verses 4 and 5 is this, the ground of justification is not our works, but simply believing God's promise of spiritual blessing through the Messiah. That means that the ground of Abraham's justification and the ground of our justification has to be, what? If it's not debt, something God owes us, what's the other alternative according to verse 4? It's a favor. It's grace. It's God's grace. The ground of Abraham's justification, the ground of our justification, is grace alone. So, for the one who stops working as a means of being right with God, if you will stop trying to be right with God by your own efforts, but you will "believe in the God who justifies the ungodly," notice verse 5, "his faith is credited as righteousness."

Now today, Paul completes his answer to the question, on what basis are we made right with God? And in verses 6 through 8 we're going to see the basis of justification reinforced. He has identified it in verses 1 to 3. He's explained it for us in verses 4 and 5. In verses 6 through 8 he's going to support it with another illustration from the life of David. Notice verses 6 through 8,

just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, 
And whose sins have been covered.
"Blessed is the man who sin the Lord will not take into account."

Now, notice those two little words that start verse 6, just as. Those words make it clear that Paul isn't beginning a new point. Abraham, and Abraham's justification, is still the focus of this chapter. So why bring this brief quote from David into a chapter about Abraham? Well, Paul uses this quote to both clarify and to punctuate several key issues regarding justification by faith alone. He wants to further elucidate and he wants to further defend what he's teaching, but now from the example of David. So let's see what he teaches us then from David and this quote from a Psalm David wrote.

First of all, Paul uses this to teach us that justification by faith alone is taught throughout the Old Testament. Notice how verse 6 begins, "just as David also speaks." That means that in Paul's mind, what Moses says in Genesis 15:6 about Abraham and what David says in Psalm 32 about himself, are both making the same point about justification. What's the point? Well, look at the second half of verse 6, "the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works." That's the point. It's the point of Genesis 15:6. It's the point of Psalm 32:1-2.

Now, what Paul is doing here is he's using yet another expression to help us understand justification by faith. He's already referred to justification in several different ways in Romans. Let me just show them to you. Go back to chapter 3 verse 22. Here he speaks of it as "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe." That's one way to think of what he's talking about. Verse 24, here's another way, "being justified," being declared right with God, "as a gift by His grace." Verse 28, here's yet a third way, "a man is justified by faith apart from the works of Law." Verse 3 of chapter 4, "'it was credited to him as righteousness.'" Verse 5, God "justifies the ungodly." And then notice the end of verse 5, here's yet another way, "his faith is credited," the one who believes in God like that, "his faith is credited as righteousness." Now, in verse 6 Paul expresses exactly the same reality, in all of those expressions, in different words. Notice how he says it at the end of verse 6, "God credits righteousness apart from works."

All of those expressions are simply different ways to refer to the same reality. God will, as judge, in a forensic legal sense, declare sinners to be right with Him and right before His law, based on grace alone, through faith alone, in the Messiah alone. Paul is laboring here in Romans 4 to emphasize that this basic gospel, his gospel, is taught throughout the Old Testament. Verse 3, "For what does the Scripture say?" You remember back in chapter 3 verse 21 Paul says, my gospel is "witnessed by both the Law and the Prophets." Paul has already begun to prove the one, the Law, because he cites the example of Abraham from Genesis, and the quotation from David in the Psalms provides evidence from the Prophets, Law and Prophets. David becomes a second witness to testify about the truth of justification by faith alone always being God's only way of salvation. Remember, Paul is thinking like a Jewish person here. He's thinking of a passage like Deuteronomy 19:15 that says that "on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed." Abraham is witness number one. David is witness number two.

A second point about justification that Paul is using this quotation from David to stress and to drive home with us is this, justification is the heart of God's promise to make Abraham a blessing to the nations. You remember, in the Abrahamic Covenant, God says, "through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed." What was that about? Well, it's about a blessing, but a spiritual blessing. Notice how Paul alludes to it here, verse 6, "David speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works." Here it's the blessing of justification. In verses 7 and 8 he uses the word blessed twice and it refers to the blessedness of forgiveness, which is part of justification. But then in verse 9 he comes back to the larger picture, "Is this blessing," talking about Abraham as well as David, he's talking about now the blessing of justification again. What's he talking about? Why does he refer to justification as "the blessing"?

Well, you remember what we discovered in Galatians 3? In Galatians 3, in verse 8, "Scripture," Paul writes, "foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you.'"

Blessed in what way? What kind of blessing? Well, in verse 13 of this chapter, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'" Now listen to this, "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles." In other words, justification is at the heart of that promise God made Abraham, "in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed." Blessed in what way? Blessed with the blessing of justification. Blessed with being declared right before Me, in the same way you are Abraham, by grace through faith.

A third point, back in Romans 4, that Paul intends to make from the example of David, is that justification is a blessing available only to individuals. Again, verse 6 says, "David speaks of the blessing on the man [emphasis added] to whom." There are those in Christianity today who talk about justification as if it were a group thing, God declares the community of believers justified. That is not the language of the New Testament, clearly it's not here. Justification is not a group or community blessing. It's a blessing on a person, on an individual. That's how the blessing of justification comes.

Number four, Paul uses the quote here to teach us that justification is the work of God. This is obvious but he hasn't said it yet. Look at verse 3 of chapter 4. In the quotation, "'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him,'" "'it was credited.'" Now, if you remember anything from college or from high school about English, you'll remember that that's in the passive voice; "'it was credited,'" doesn't tell us who credited, leaves it unstated, it's understood that it's God, but it's not clearly stated. So, Paul is not content to leave it in that sort of vagarity, and so instead, notice in verse 6, he states it plainly, "God credits." Here Paul puts it in the active voice, the subject is clearly stated, "God credits righteousness," God justifies.

Now, a fifth key issue regarding justification that Paul clarifies or punctuates with David's example, number five, is in justification God credits actual righteousness to the sinner's account. Again, notice verse 6, "God credits righteousness." Now folks, this is absolutely crucial to understand because a lot of people try to reconcile God justifying the ungodly in verse 5 with God's own self declaration in Exodus 34 where He says, I will never justify the wicked. And at first glance you might think that God is somehow violating His own law or His own character. Absolutely not.

When God says, in Exodus, that He will, in several places actually in the Old Testament, that He will not justify the wicked, what He means is this, I will not declare someone to be righteous where there is no righteousness anywhere to be found. But that's not what God does in justification. God does not violate His own character in declaring the ungodly to be righteous when in fact there is no righteousness. Instead, God declares us righteous because there is real righteousness in our account. It's not our righteousness, it's the righteousness of Christ, but it is real righteousness.

Look at chapter 5 verse 19, we touched on this last week, "For through the one man's disobedience," that's Adam, "the many," in context we'll see it when we get here, he means everybody, "the many" here is, it's just a way, a figure of speech, he means every human being, "the many were constituted sinners, even so through the obedience of the One," that is, the Messiah, that's our Lord Jesus Christ, "the many," and here by many he means those who have been redeemed, "will be made," or constituted as, "righteous." In other words, God credits to us Christ's total life of obedience, which culminated in one great act of obedience, His death on the cross.

Remember, Philippians 2 says, "He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross." So Christ's entire total life of obedience to God, including that great culmination of obedience, death on a cross, is credited to us. Some people, not understanding this, object to justification as some sort of legal fiction, like God is playing a shell and pea game of some kind. They say, how can God be just and put somebody else's righteousness in our account? Now, think about this for a moment. That's a good question. How can He do that? The answer is in Ephesians 1:3. Remember Ephesians 1:3, "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing," – how? – "in Christ."

God credits Christ's righteousness to us based on the reality of our union with Christ. Just like my wife and I are married and financially we get the advantage of each other's, the union we enjoy, and financially, if we make bad decisions, we share the consequences of that union. In the same way with Christ, we're united to Jesus Christ, and so it is not legal fiction for God to take the righteousness that belongs to the one with whom we are united and place it in our account.

There's one other thing I want to make sure you understand here, when we're making the point that God puts actual righteousness in our account, understand that God does not accept your faith as if it were righteousness. In other words, God doesn't say, okay, I understand you don't have righteousness, but you believe, so I'm going to take your faith as if it were righteousness. That's not what God does. That would truly be legal fiction because faith is not righteousness. And in addition, if God said I'm going to take your faith for righteousness, what does faith become? It becomes a work, I'm contributing to my standing before God. In justification God actually credits real righteousness to our account and then treats us on the basis of that righteousness. That is how God can still be just and declare righteous the ungodly, because there is real righteousness in our account.

John Owen, the great Puritan pastor, put it this way, "The sinner is not accepted as if he were righteous, but because in Jesus Christ he is so. The majesty of the law is not sacrificed, its requirements are fulfilled, its penalty is endured in all its awfulness." Owen is saying listen, God's law is perfectly kept, God isn't playing a shell and pea game with His righteousness and His justice. We are united to Christ and because we are united to Christ, it is perfectly just and right for God to take what belongs to Christ, the one with whom we are united, and put it in our account, and to treat us as if we had performed it.

Number six, Paul uses the example of David to teach us that justification is completely of grace. Verse 6 ends, "God credits righteousness," notice this, underline it, "apart from works." Our standing before God is completely apart from any work or effort on my part. And therefore, it must be completely of grace. Remember, if it's work then God owes it to me as a debt, verse 4, but if it's not work then it's a favor, it's grace. It's God doing what I don't deserve.

Now, Paul had already made this point back in verses 4 and 5, that it was of grace, it's a favor. But in the quote from David in verses 7 and 8, Paul makes it clear that he's not merely talking about the absence of ceremony. If you listen, for example, to the Roman Catholic Church, in its teaching on justification, they will say, I mean Paul clearly says here God credits righteousness apart from works, they will say, well, that doesn't mean all works, that means ceremony, it's the works of the law, it's doing ceremonies, you're not saved on that basis, instead you're saved on the basis of true good works, moral works. But that can't be what Paul is talking about here in context. He argues in verse 5 that God "justifies the ungodly" and in verses 6 through 8 he's going to show us what he means by ungodly, he's talking about people, not who lack ceremony, but people who lack righteousness period, who have sins, "'lawless deeds.'"

And that brings us to number seven. And this is really the main point, this is the main reason Paul includes this quote from David, it's to show us that justification includes the forgiveness of sins. Of course, the quotation here is from Psalm 32. As you know, Psalm 32 is one of the two Psalms of confession and repentance David wrote after Nathan the prophet confronted him, you remember, confronted him about the ongoing sin of adultery and the murder of Bathsheba's husband Uriah the Hittite. Adultery in an ongoing pattern for a period of time and murder, that's the sin we're talking about. For at least nine months David lived, and this is almost unthinkable to us, but David lived in open unrepentant sin and under the guilt of those sins. He was cold, hard hearted, rebellious, enjoying for that time the fleeting pleasures of sin for a season. But through Nathan, God brought David to real repentance, as he does all true believers ultimately, or He chastens them and brings them home.

And through that repentance He brought David to enjoy the wonderful blessing of forgiveness. The words of Psalm 32 that Paul quotes here capture the blessing that David enjoyed as a result of the forgiveness he came to know. Look at the word blessed. It's in verse 7 and verse 8, borrowed obviously from the Psalm. The word, the Greek word blessed, means to be happy. It means to be in an enviable position. That's really the Hebrew word, 'aš·rê, it means to be envied, worthy of being envied, because you enjoy God's special favor. David says, "'Oh to be envied, how happy,'" notice verse 7, "'are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven.'" "'Lawless deeds'" refers to our sins as those acts that are contrary to God's law. David describes his sin and our sin as criminal acts against our rightful King.

I want you to think about the sins you've committed this week. Just think back for a moment about the things that your conscience convicted you of that you knew were wrong. Is that how you think about them? They are criminal acts against your rightful King. David understood that. And our criminal actions, by the way, are not from ignorance of God's law, they're not from negligence, instead they are the result of an intentionally lawless, rebellious heart. We know and we still choose. The Apostle John in 1 John 3:4, describing the unregenerate, unbeliever, says, "Everyone who practices sin," that is, is in the regular habit and practice of unrepentant sin, "practices lawlessness," because "sin is lawlessness."

Every time we choose to sin it is a criminal act against our rightful King. David says, "'Oh to be envied are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven.'" The word forgiven means to release someone from the legal consequence of their actions. The word we often would use in this context is pardon. "'Oh to be envied are those whose lawless deeds, whose criminal actions against their rightful king, have been pardoned.'"

How can God pardon our acts of rebellion against Him in His rightful authority and still be just? Remember, "I will by no means leave the guilty unpunished," God says, that's part of My character. So how can God do that? It's because He doesn't leave the guilty unpunished. Isaiah 53:5, in that central passage about the death of Christ says, "He was pierced through for our," and the Hebrew says, "transgressions." In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, it uses the very word, "lawless deeds." "He was pierced through for our lawless deeds." David says, "'How blessed, how enviable are those whose criminal, lawless, rebellious actions against their rightful sovereign, have been pardoned.'"

In case you think, you know, my sin is just too bad for God to forgive, understand that that is two things. One, you are compounding your sin with pride, thinking your sin is worse than these. And secondly, you're confounding it with, compounding it I should say, with disbelief because God says He forgives sins. And remember, in David's case, what are we talking about? We're talking about an ongoing pattern of adultery for nine months and we're talking about the murder of Uriah the Hittite. Verse 7 goes on to say, "'Blessed or those whose sins have been covered.'" The Greek word for sins refers to our sin as a departure from the divine standard. It's like Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray," not accidentally, but intentionally, "we have each turned to his own way." The corresponding Hebrew word to sins in Psalm 32 means to miss the mark. David says, "'Blessed are those whose sins have been,'" notice, "'covered.'"

The Hebrew word translated covered back in Psalm 32 is one of the most important words in the Old Testament. It's a word that speaks of the atonement. When we think of the word cover, you have to be very careful here, when we think of the word cover, we think of hiding something, we think of sweeping something under the rug as though it's not really dealt with. That is not the Hebrew word for cover. Instead, the Hebrew word kaphar speaks of sin being permanently and justly hidden from the sight of God by the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. Covered, permanently hidden from the view of God, by His own design. David says, "'How blessed are those whose constant acts of willful straying from the divine path are covered over permanently so that God never sees them again.'"

Verse 8, "'Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'" Now, notice the change Paul makes from the plural in verse 7, lawless deeds and sins, to the singular sin in verse 8. It could just be stylistic, but I think it probably reflects the fact that in Psalm 32 verse 2, David uses the singular of yet a third Hebrew word that is commonly used for sin. It's the word that's often translated in our Old Testament as iniquity. It's the word that speaks of sin not only in its actions but also in its nature. It means twistedness or perversion. In other words, when we sin, there is, in our choice to sin, a twisting, a perversion of God's design. That's how this word looks at sin. It also includes, by the way, the idea of the resulting legal guilt that comes from twisting God's ways and the punishment that that sin deserves. It's used in all of those different nuances in the Old Testament.

Again, notice verse 8, what David says. David says, "'Oh to be envied is the individual whose moral twistedness and personal guilt,'" now notice this, this is the key, "'the Lord will not take into account.'" Here is the primary point of contact between Psalm 32 and Romans 4, because in some 32 verse 2, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Bible that often the Apostles and Jesus used, uses the same word Paul uses so often in Romans 4, the word credit. It's the same word, credit. So David says, "'Oh to be envied is the man whose sinfulness and guilt the Lord does not credit to him.'" The Greek text even does something that you can't do in English. It uses a double negative just to stress the point. We could translate it like this, "'Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never credit to him,'" or "'Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord certainly will not credit to him.'" That's the idea.

Now do you get the point? Do you see the point in the context of Romans 4? David had committed lawless deeds. He had missed the mark. He had sinned repeatedly against God's holy standard. He had committed acts of moral twistedness, perversion, acts that brought real legal guilt, and the just prospect of divine punishment. David's only hope of being right before God was if God would treat him completely apart from his works. And that is exactly what God did. God did not credit, verse 8, God did not credit David's sin to his account. Paul is telling us that Psalm 32, just like Genesis 15:6, is describing the reality of justification by grace alone through faith alone.

Can we just be honest? This is what we need and desire as much as David did. If you have any sense of your own heart, if you have any conscience at all, you look back over your life and you see, whatever age you are, you see a pattern of sin and rebellion and lawless deeds, and you bear a burden of guilt. We all do. We need forgiveness. But it's easy for us to think, in light of our sin and guilt, that we have no right to God's forgiveness. And it's true, we don't have any right.

But we do have every reason to hope and to expect this kind of forgiveness from God. Why? Because of who God is. Think about God's self-revelation in Exodus 34. I love that, we go back to it all the time, just like the Old Testament does. What does God say about Himself? He says, let Me tell you who I am. I am "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love," and then He says this, "forgiving," and He uses the same three words that David uses in Psalm 32:1-2, "forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." God says, this is My nature, to forgive. This is who I am.

I love the way Nehemiah puts it in Nehemiah 9:17. He's praying about the nation of Israel and their rebellion and sin and he says to God, "'They refused to listen, and they did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.'" And then he says this, I love this, "'But You are a God of forgiveness.'" "'But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and You did not forsake them.'"

Psalm 86:5, "You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive," literally, "eager to forgive," "and abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You." Is that how you think about God? Do you think of God, your Father, as eager to forgive when you're truly repentant? If that's not how you think of Him then you're slurring His character, because that's how He says He is.

But God is not just forgiving by nature. You can expect forgiveness because it's what He promises in the gospel. Listen to Christ in Luke 24:46-47. Jesus said, "'Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that,'" listen to this, "'repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.'" That's the gospel. Repentance, you have to be willing to turn from your rebellion against God your Creator and come and throw yourself on His mercy in Christ, and when you do, you find forgiveness. Pardon, He permanently covers them from His vision. He doesn't put them in your account and treat you as if you had committed them. In Acts 10:43, Peter says of Christ, "'all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.'"

Let me ask you this morning, do you know what it is to be smothered by the guilt of your sin, the knowledge that only you have of what you have done, that you and God alone fully know? Everyone who believes in Jesus experiences forgiveness, forgiveness of sins. You see, the point of Romans 4:6 to 8 is that God's forgiveness of our sins is actually part of justification. It's not all that justification is, but it is part of justification.

And that is absolutely crucial because, you see, we as sinners have two huge problems. Have you ever thought about this? You have, and I have, two huge problems. Problem number one is that we are all legally guilty of breaking God's law and God's justice, His very nature, demands that the penalty for our rebellion be paid. That's problem number one, and it's huge, but that's not our only problem. We have another problem that's equally huge. That is, we also lack the positive righteousness that God requires of anyone who enters His presence.

Think of it like this, if I were to sin against Sheila. Now this is hypothetical of course, you understand. But let's just assume for a moment, you know I'm kidding I hope, if I sin against my wife and I go to her and say, sweetheart, I'm so sorry, I sinned against you, please forgive me, and she forgives me, what happens? Well, that state of forgiveness is forgiveness, but it doesn't make me a perfect husband. I'm still woefully lacking. In the same way, nor does God's forgiveness make me positively righteous. If all He does is forgive, it still doesn't make me perfectly adequately righteous in a way that meets His standard. So, we have two needs, we need forgiveness for our sins and we need righteousness to enter His presence. And the amazing reality is that in justification God provides both.

In justification there are two great transactions of imputation, or God doing a bookkeeping transaction and crediting. In the first transaction, God credits our sins to Christ. Now, we can break that down into two parts. First of all, God does not leave our sins in our account even though we have committed them. That's exactly what David says. Do you see it in verse 8? "'Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not credit to him.'" So, God doesn't leave the sins I've committed, that rightly belong in my ledger, that rightly belong in my account, He doesn't leave them there. You say, well, what does He do with them? Well, that's the second part. God credits our sins to Christ. He takes them out of my ledger and He posts them in Christ's ledger.

This is what the message of substitutionary atonement is all about. Go back to Isaiah 53. You remember what Isaiah 53 says, "He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed by God for our iniquities; the chastening for our shalom," for our peace, for our spiritual shalom, "fell on Him, and by His stripes, by His scourging we are spiritually healed." This is the message of Scripture, New and Old Testament alike. I love 1 Peter 2:24, "He Himself," speaking of Christ, "He Himself bore," listen to this, "our sins," plural. "He bore our sins in His body on the cross." You see what Peter is saying? He's saying God didn't credit your sins to you. He didn't leave them in your account. He posted them, all of them, every one of them, and God knows every single sin you and I have ever committed or ever will commit, in mind and word and action, He posted all of them to the ledger of Christ. And then God treated Jesus as guilty of those sins.

If you believe in Jesus Christ or if you're ever willing to believe in Him, God treated Christ on the cross as if He were you and as if He had committed every single sin you have ever or will ever commit. Romans 5:9 says we are "justified by His blood." We are declared righteous by His violent death in our place, bearing the guilt and penalty of our sins that had been posted in His ledger, and then God treated Him for those six dark hours as if He had committed every sin I committed.

But there's a second transaction. God not only credits are sin to Christ, God credits Christ's righteousness to us. Romans 4 makes it crystal clear that God credits righteousness. Look at verse 6, "God credits righteousness apart from our own works." So, this righteousness clearly is not our own, it's entirely the righteousness of someone else, deposited into our account. Justification has nothing whatsoever to do with righteousness infused in or produced in the believer. Instead, it is unearned, it is undeserved righteousness, credited to our count.

So, whose righteousness? Where does this come from? Well, in Romans 3 it's called the "righteousness of God," but more precisely, as we saw over in chapter 5 verse 19, it is "the obedience of the One." It is the righteousness of the Messiah. First Corinthians 1:30, "Christ became to us righteousness." In justification an incredible exchange takes place, Jesus gets my sins posted to His ledger and I get His righteousness posted to mine.

Turn to 2 Corinthians 5 because in one passage all of these transactions occur. Second Corinthians 5, start in verse 19, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself," here's the first part, "not counting their trespasses against them." There's the first part, He didn't leave our sins in our account. So what did He do with them? Verse 21, "He made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." He put my sins in Christ's ledger. He credited them to Him and He treated Him as if He had committed them in order that He might do the final transaction, "so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." This is justification.

Martin Luther puts it beautifully when he writes this, "Wearied at length with your own righteousness, rejoice in the righteousness of Christ. Learn, my dear brother, to know Christ, and Christ crucified, and learn to despair of yourself, and to sing to the Lord this song: Lord Jesus! You are my righteousness, but I am Your sin. You have taken what belonged to me. You have given me what was Yours. You became what You were not, in order that I might become what I was not."

Let me ask you this morning, do you suffer from the knowledge of the guilt of past sins? Do they haunt you? Do they keep you awake sometimes at night? Do they stir your heart to a sense of what it will be like to stand before God still being responsible for those sins? Do you live with the past haunting you and, maybe in some cases, driving you to despair? Listen to David. Listen, David knew what it was to live under the guilt of sin and this is what he wrote,

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, 
whose sins have been covered. 
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not credit to him."

Listen, that can be you this morning. If you will repent of your sin. If you will turn from what you know to be sin and cast yourself on the mercy of your rightful King, whose laws you have broken. If you will believe, as Abraham did and as David did, the promises of Paul's gospel, then God will credit righteousness to you apart from works. That can happen this moment, the moment you believe in Christ. If you're already in Christ, let this encourage you. Think about what God has done. He has given you the two things you most need, the two things I most need, forgiveness and righteousness. Let's pray together.

Our Father, I am afraid that I have not done justice to this truth this morning. How can we grasp the depth of Your grace? Father, I pray that Your spirit would now do what I cannot do, that He would grant true illumination, that He would open up the truth to the hearts and minds of those who've heard. Father, may we not simply grasp the truth, but may the truth grasp us, and may we be different. Establish us in the gospel, even as Paul prayed for the Roman Christians.

And Father I pray for those who are here this morning who still bear the guilt, both the feeling of guilt, the sense of guilt, and real legal guilt, before Your throne. O Father, may they be willing to abandon their rebellion today, throw themselves on Your mercy, You who are "ready to forgive and abundant in steadfast love to all who will call upon You." Thank You, O God, that this is who You are. This is the promise You made us in the gospel. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.