top of page
  • Paul Reich

The Life-Changing Power of God's Word (Part 6)

God's Word is a moral guide training us in the way of righteousness - Part 1: Imputed Righteousness

 
 

Illustration by Jim Lamb, taken from Discussion Manual for Student Discipleship, written by Dawson McAllister and Dan Webster, pg. 72.


God’s Word has life-transforming power. It can reach the vilest sinner, turn him from his sinful ways, and send him as a messenger of God’s life-changing grace to others. One true story that illustrates the power of the God's Word to save and transform is the story of Ramad.


Ramad was the most dangerous man in all of India. His gang attacked, plundered and terrified the remote villages of the area. He was wanted dead or alive. While ransacking a small home in one of these villages, he found a small black book. At first he started to throw it away, but he noticed that the paper was very thin and just the right size for roll-your-own cigarettes. Each evening after a meal Ramad would relax with a smoke. He would take out the little book, tear a page out, and fold it over for the tobacco.


One evening while folding the paper, he noticed the writing was in his own language. So each evening after eating, he would read a page of the little book and then smoke it. One evening he knelt down and asked Jesus to forgive his sins and to be his Savior. The small black book was the Bible.


He turned himself over to the police, much to their surprise, and turned from a bandit to a prisoner for Christ. The prison became Ramad’s mission field where he led many other prisoners to Jesus. God’s Word made the change in his life.[1]


The story of Ramad vividly demonstrates the power of God’s Word to reach into a sinful heart, bring conviction of sin, present the hope of the Gospel, and transform a life. Highlighting this life-changing power of God's Word is the purpose of my current series of posts. Most recently, we have been examining Paul’s instruction to Timothy on the benefits of God’s Word for shaping our lives.


2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NET)

16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.


So far, we have looked at the Bible’s benefit “for teaching, for reproof,” and “for correction.” In this post, we will explore the usefulness of God’s Word for training in righteousness.” The account of Ramad clearly illustrates the power of God’s Word to both bring salvation and to instruct in the way of righteousness resulting in personal transformation. Ramad not only found forgiveness in Christ, he also turned from his life of crime and turned himself over to the police to pay society's penalty for his crimes. He then used his time in prison to share the life-changing message of the Gospel with others. All of this was the result of reading the Scriptures.


The Greek word translated “training” is paideia. Built on the same root as paidion, the Greek word for “child,” and paidogōgos, from which we get our word “pedagogue,”[2] paideia was used primarily with reference to the upbringing, rearing, education, and discipline of children. It emphasizes both the education of the mind and the shaping of moral behavior. Hence, the common English translation “training” which encompasses the range of meaning inherent in this word.


Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash


The purpose of God’s Word is not simply to fill your mind with knowledge, but to act as a spiritual parent or moral guide to train you in the standards and ways of God. Much like a personal fitness trainer walks alongside you to help you implement beneficial practices to reach desired fitness goals, the Holy Spirit and the Bible work together to train you spiritually. A trainer assesses your current condition, then instructs, demonstrates, coaches, and customizes training to help you achieve targets set for your weight, strength, or athletic development. Further, a trainer helps you establish personal discipline in diet, exercise, and skill mastery for reaching these goals. Similarly, the Holy Spirit and the Bible work together to train in all these same ways – instructing, demonstrating, coaching, training, and developing disciplines in your life to address your particular needs for personal growth and ministry preparation, so that you “may be capable and equipped for every good work.”


Two Kinds of Righteousness


In 2 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul highlights that the Scriptures train us in “righteousness.” Righteousness is a very important subject in the Bible and understanding the Bible’s teaching on righteousness is foundational for both Christian faith and practice.[3] It is particularly important that you understand two kinds of righteousness that are recurring themes in the Bible: 1) Imputed (given) Righteousness and 2) Imparted (growing) Righteousness. In this post, I will discuss the first, and in my next post, I will discuss the second.


Imputed righteousness speaks of our POSTION of RIGHT STANDING before God because of Christ’s death on our behalf. Apart from Christ, we stand guilty before God for our sins, and we are deserving of His wrath (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:1-3, 5:5-6; Colossians 3:5-6). The penalty for sin includes separation from God (Genesis 3:22-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:21; 1 John 1:5-7), physical death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12, 6:23), and eternal condemnation in the lake of fire, the ultimate expression of God’s wrath (Revelation 20:13-15).


We have all sinned and fall short of God’s righteous standard (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:9-12, 23). On top of this, our human efforts are inadequate to make ourselves acceptable to God. We can’t redeem ourselves with money (1 Peter 1:18). Animal sacrifices are not sufficient to take away our sins (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11), and not even sacrificing our children will atone for our sins (Micah 6:7). Moreover, righteous deeds don’t save us (Titus 3:5), and right standing with God cannot be achieved by works of the law (Romans 9:31; Galatians 3:21; Philippians). In fact, Paul goes so far as to say, “if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21).


In the end, we cannot save ourselves, cleanse our own sin, or merit right standing with God. It’s not about what we do, but rather what Christ has done for us. His sacrifice on the cross is alone sufficient to once for all pay the penalty for our sin (Hebrews 10:10, 12, 14, 19-22). According to the Gospel message, Christ died for our sins as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice, taking our sin upon himself and being judged in our place. (Isaiah 53; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21), thereby saving us from God’s wrath (Romans 5:8-9; Ephesians 2:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).


His death wipes clean our slate of sin, and we stand justified before God ("just-as-if-I’d" never sinned). In this divine exchange, our record of sin was imputed (given) to Christ, and His righteousness was imputed (given) to us. Our debt of sin is credited to Christ’s account and paid for by Him, while His record of righteousness is credited to our account. As a result, we stand before God righteousness by faith, our debt having been paid. As the song says,

He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand-new song, “Amazing Grace.” the whole day long. Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.[4]

That Christ would bear our sin was prophesied centuries earlier through the writing of Isaiah:


Isaiah 53:5–6 (NIV)

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


This image entitled "Christ of St John of the Cross" was painted by Salvador Dali


In his book, Your Father Loves You, J.I. Packer highlights Martin Luther’s thoughts on the phrase, “and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”


Commenting on this verse Martin Luther wrote: "All the prophets did foresee in Spirit that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, etc., that ever was or could be in all the world. For he, being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world is not now an innocent person and without sins...but a sinner." He was, of course, talking about the imputing of our wrongdoing to Christ as our substitute.


Luther continues: "Our most merciful Father ... sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him ... the sins of all men saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and briefly be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now comes the law and saith: I find him a sinner...therefore let him die upon the cross. And so he setteth upon him and killeth him. By this means the whole world is purged and cleansed from all sins."


The presentation of the death of Christ as the substitute exhibits the love of the cross more richly, fully, gloriously, and glowingly than any other account of it. Luther saw this and gloried in it. He once wrote to a friend: "Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You became what you were not, so that I might become what I was not.'" What a great and wonderful exchange! Was there ever such love? [5]


Our sins, too, were laid on Jesus as if the Father were saying, “Be thou ______ that _______.” It is not that Jesus became “sinful” in nature or character for He was the sinless and spotless Lamb of God; but rather that He took our sins upon Himself and as "a sinner" in our place paid the penalty for our sins. In the exchange, we receive His record of righteousness and right standing before God.


Like the apostle Paul, Luther came to understand that the Gospel “is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, …. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live” (Romans 1:16–17 NET). Luther experienced a personal “reformation” when he saw that the power of the Gospel to save is directly connected to God’s righteousness being revealed in the Gospel and that both are received by faith. He came to understand that the central message of the Gospel by which we are saved is the death of Christ for our sins and his resurrection (Romans 1:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). On the cross, Christ’s atoning death removed the sin barrier that separates us from God. As we place our faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf and on His victorious resurrection, we are justified, that is we are judicially declared righteous and placed in right standing with God.

  • Acts 13:38–39 (NET), through this one [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by this one everyone who believes is justified [declared righteous] from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you.

  • Romans 3:21–24 (NET), But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosednamely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified [declared righteous] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

  • Romans 3;28 (NET), For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

  • Romans 4:4–5 (NET), Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

  • Romans 5:1 (NET), we have been declared righteous by faith,

  • Romans 5:9 (NET), we have now been declared righteous by his blood,

  • Romans 10:4 (NET), For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

  • Romans 10:10 (NET), For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NET), God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

  • Philippians 3:9 (NIV), and 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.


The Results of Imputed Righteousness


More now than ever, even after knowing Christ for 52 years, I stand in awe of God’s incomprehensible love and amazing grace in Christ to save us from sin and its consequences. Having been declared righteous by grace through faith, we now experience incredible undeserved benefits solely on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection.


1) Instead of Condemnation, Pardon


Because God sent His Son as an offering for sin, the requirement of the law has been fulfilled for those who place their faith in Christ and are indwelt by His Spirit. The result is that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:16, 8:1-4). Instead of a sentence of condemnation, we stand pardoned and justified before God. Moreover, because God has forgiven us, no one can accuse us. If God is for us, who can stand against us? . . . Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us (Romans 8:31–34 NET).


2) Instead of Separation, Reconciliation


Now because of Christ, instead of being separated from God, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). Formerly, we were enemies alienated from God, but now we have been reconciled by Christ’s death (Romans 5:8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Formerly, we were far off and unable to approach a Holy God, but now we have been brought near and given access by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-18, 3:11-12). Under Old Testament law, only the high priest on only one day each year was permitted access into Holy of Holies, but the veil of separation has been removed in Christ and we now have free access to God’s presence, able to draw near with confidence and full assurance of faith (Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22).


3) Instead of Death, Eternal Life


Because Christ, as the ultimate spotless sacrifice, died in our place paying the penalty of death that was brought into the world through Adam’s sin, believers now have new spiritual life through regeneration by the Holy Spirit as well as the promise of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 5:12-21; Titus 3:5-7). Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death, these mortal bodies will put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-57), being transformed into the likeness of Christ’s resurrected and glorified body (Philippians 3:20-21), and we will live forever.


4) Instead of Wrath, Blessings


To be saved from God’s wrath because of Christ’s death is astounding in itself (Romans 5:8-9; Ephesians 2:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10), but this act of love goes far beyond averting God’s judgment. It is like being freed from prison and winning the lottery at the same time. We have not only been pardoned and saved from eternal judgment, but because of the riches of God’s grace we have been granted every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). We have become co-heirs with Christ of indescribable blessings in His heavenly kingdom, enjoying His presence, provision, and care for all eternity (1 Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 21). Just as “the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was … through the righteousness of faith, so also will those who are of the faith of Abraham,” inherit the promises according to God’s grace (Romans 4:13-16 NASB). ”Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).


Closing and Looking Forward


“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). The incredible love and provision of God in Christ can only result in our humble appreciation and worship. It is upon this foundation of grace that we build our Christian lives. By placing our trust in God’s gift in Christ, we are declared righteous and granted right standing with Him along with unfathomable blessings in Christ both now and for all eternity.


Unless this foundation of God’s amazing grace granting us imputed righteousness is first established, we run the risk of legalistic efforts to earn favor with God through our own attempts at righteousness, which will fail. We run the risk of trusting in our good works rather than in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Our basis of our bold access to God is now and will always be the finished work of Christ, never our own righteousness (Hebrews 10:19-22).


Furthermore, apart from the life of Christ in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are not able to experience the transformation of heart and mind that will bear the fruit of righteousness in our behavior and relationships. With fleshly self-effort, we can develop a form of godliness, display public respectability, and even engage in external religious practices, but it takes God’s Word and the work of His Spirit in our lives to transform our thoughts, purify our motives, change our character, and establish a lifestyle that reflects Christ. Imputed righteousness gives us access to the divine resources we need for developing righteousness in thought, character, and behavior (2 Peter 1:3 – see my post, “Divine Power for Godliness”).


The Holy Spirit used God's Word to bring Ramad to saving faith in Jesus Christ, giving him right standing with God. Then through illuminating the Word and empowering him to apply it to his life, the Holy Spirit set Ramad on a course of righteous living. In my next blog, I will examine the role of the Scriptures for training us in this second type of righteousness, what many Christian scholars call imparted or actual righteousness. In that post we will look at how the Bible trains us to live a righteous life that pleases God.



REFERENCES

[1] This account of Ramad by Peter V. Deison is taken from one of my books of sermon illustrations that is currently boxed and in storage during this time of transition. Once we get settled into a new place, I will update this reference. In the meantime, I was able to copy this account from one of my old sermons. A very similar version of this account can be found at http://glimpsesofgrace.org/gods-word-will-produce-life/

[2] Compare also our word “pediatrician,” a doctor who provides medical care for children

[3] The Greek “dikaiosunē,” translated “righteousness” in our passage, along with its cognates (words built from the same root), have broad and rich usage both in the secular world of Paul’s day, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint), and in the New Testament.

[4] Because this song spread quickly in the 70’s and 80’s by word of mouth, there are many versions and verses for this song available on the internet. This is the chorus to the version I learned many years ago.

[5] James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page