We say no sin too great, no sinner too far! (Except, of course, those who have put themselves “past feeling”). God is very near to those who feel their destitution (Ps 102:17), especially in those moments of utter weakness that attends the end of mortal life. Never was a greater, more sovereign revelation than that which broke upon the thief on the cross at the point of greatest weakness and despair of self.
Nowhere is this principle more clearly seen than in Israel’s appointed time of national deliverance. The veil that is over the Jewish heart will be removed “at the set time” … “at once” … “in one day” when the penitent survivors of Israel will “look upon Him whom they pierced” (Ps 102:13; Isa 25:7; 66:8; Eze 39:22; Zech 3:9; 12:10; Mt 23:39; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7; 10:7). But the thing most to be observed is that this transformative revelation takes place “when He (Yahweh) sees their power is gone” (Deut 32:36 with Dan 12:7). There is a profound spiritual principle here that is seen all throughout the scriptures.
The power of His endless life is revealed at the end of the pride of self-reliance, which is the strength of the veil that hides the transforming, liberating revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 3:14-18; 4:6). Here is the pattern that explains why crisis is required to shatter the pride of self-reliance, not only in the unbelieving, but Paul explains the principle of God’s wise use of crisis as an abiding principle, even in the lives of the godly (Acts 14:22; 2Cor 1:8-10; 12:7).
The free gift of an everlasting righteousness is immediately imputed at the point of faith, but saving faith comes when the Spirit has used the unapproachable holiness of the law to drive the sinner off of any hope in themselves (Ex 19:16m 21-24; 20:18-19; Ro 7:9; Gal 3:10, 19, 21). That is why the law came first by Moses (Jn 1:17). When the real implications of the law’s holy requirement is quickend to the heart, the gospel of a righteousness that is not one’s own becomes exceedingly good news.
What a freedom to no longer cast about with endless introspection, attempting in vain to find some ground of standing in one’s self! What a liberating glory to find all our righteousness in Him alone, as His alone, yet freely given, imputed to a simple, child-like reliance on His finished work, together with the glad certainty of His promise to keep His own to the end (Jn 6:39; Ro 8:30-35).
This is not a partial imputation. It is more than the forgiveness made only possible by His death; it is the imputation of the merits of His perfect, sinless life meeting all the demands of the law on our behalf as the “last Adam”, our human representative (Mt 3:15; Gal 4:4; Ro 4:3, 5-6, 23-24; 15:45).
This magnificent exchange is as near and available to any sinner as the gift of faith. This gift is not simply faith in the many facts of the truth, but that simple, undivided trust that His life and sacrifice is enough, all sufficient, that nothing can be added; “it is finished!”
The Father has “seen the travail of His soul and is satisfied” (Isa 53:11). The work is done, the life lived, the death died, and the resurrection and ascent to the Father’s right hand is proof that the debt has been paid to the last farthing, past and future, finished, “Tetelestai” (= Paid in full).
To such a simple, undivided, undistributed trust in Christ’s only sufficient righteousness, no matter how weak the faith or how late the hour, to this faith in Christ alone (and it must be alone), with no supplement or contribution from anything within the reach of nature, is appended the promise of eternal life, received at once and forever. This Spirit quickened, regenerating faith unites even the greatest of sinners, at once and forever, to the life of obedience that Jesus lived “under the law” (Gal 4:4) for our sake and in our place.
This is not only that we might be pardoned from the curse of the law, but that we might be blessed by the blessing that the law itself must pronounce on that one life that perfectly fulfilled the law in all points. Through the purchase of the predestined life and death of the promised mediator (Gen 3:15; Heb 13:20; Rev 13:8), the “Spirit of Christ” could lawfully indwell the OT faithful no less than those living since the cross.
Here is the source of all true doing. In both testaments, it is the same with all His saints. The One working within was always “the Spirit of Christ who was ‘IN’ them” (1Pet 1:11). The NT revelation of “Christ in you” made known that the Holy Spirit who indwelt the OT faithful was then, as now, the Spirit of the coming mediator.
By the life that He would live and the atonement He would provide in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), the eternal Spirit was even then the only source of power to acceptably do the will of God. The NT revelation of the mystery of “Christ in you” means that then, no less than now, “it is God who is working in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
This is what the imputation of Christ’s righteousness means. The whole of His beautiful, perfectly lived life counted over to the believer’s account, “not in the part but in the whole”. This seems unimaginable, and so it is strongly resisted by reason. It has been called a “legal fiction”, but it is no more illegal that Christ’s only acceptable fulfillment of the law should become my righteousness than that my sin should be counted to Him (2Cor 5:21).
While there may be great difference in the degrees of personal sanctification, maturity, and eternal reward (some 30, 60, 100), the very most saintly of saints cannot be more justified or faultless before the throne than one who has just been newly born again, made alive by the Spirit of Christ. His lived life and death has purchased His right to make the dead to live by the gift of the Spirit. This is the only source of life and godliness.
This standing in grace is as sure to the newest faith of the newest believer as to the most mature or spiritually gifted. In this once and for all imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there is no difference, all are one body.
Not only did He deliver us from hell by His death; He won heaven and eternal blessing by living the only life that could not be cut off by the law. The law can only bless the doer with an endless life where there is an enduring righteousness.
Listen to the inexorable strictness of the law, as Paul will cite Lev 18:5 in Ro 10:5 in order to make the case that the law must be fulfilled perfectly if life will be won and the curse escaped.
You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. (compare also Deut 27:26 with Gal 3:10; 5:3; Ja 2:10).
That “doer”, the only true doer, is Christ, first for us and then by His life in us and through us, albeit only by measure and degree. All other true “doers of the Word” become so only insofar as that life is alive, working in and through them by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Even Moses who delivered these words to Israel died by this rule, since he too fell short of the perfect doing of the law in all points, but not so Jesus Christ!
The only true doer became a curse that the non-doer might be made the righteousness of God “in Him” (2Cor 5:21). This is because the only place where true righteousness exists, the kind of righteousness that counts forever, is in Him alone (compare Isa 26:12; 45:22; 54:17; Jer 23:5-6; Lk 18:19; Ro 3:12; 7:18; Rev 15:4). And being made that righteousness of God in Christ, which is nothing of our own (Phil 3:9), every true born believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit to bring forth fruit unto God by the power of that one source of life that was fully lived out in our human head and representative, the last Adam.
Only the life He lived on our behalf could qualify Him for the death on our behalf. It is not only His passive obedience on the cross (the death He willingly accepted); it is His active obedience in the life He lived under the law, being tested in all points. It is that lived out life that prepared the body that was to be offered up as the perfect satisfaction that turned away wrath (Isa 53:11; Heb 10:5). Therefore it is the whole of the Lamb (Ex 12:5-10), the merit of His life as well as the atonement of His death that is imputed in the full to even the newest believer.
This is not to say that there will not be good works that will invariably follow, as constrained by the love of God shed abroad in the Heart by the Holy Spirit. As the Reformers were famous for saying, “while we are justified by faith alone; the faith that justifies is never alone.” In fact, it is the liberty of the Spirit that comes from an undivided, undistributed trust in Christ’s finished work alone that guarantees and releases the fruits of the Spirit to which every believer has been predestined to walk in (Eph 2:10).
We are never so dead to “confidence in the flesh” as when we know ourselves to be alive to God by an eternal righteousness that is not our own, but forever secure by faith in His work as finished for us, and promised to abide with us, to preserve and keep us till we are perfected at His return (1Jn 3:2). Where there has been this deep severance from all “confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3-4), as all self reliance is replaced by a simple, undivided, undistributed trust that we have been counted, for His sake, the very righteousness of Christ, how will this not bring the greater liberty of the Spirit?
When the pride of self reliance has been slain, God will give grace to the humble. To the humble He can afford to entrust the greater fruitfulness, since one is never so stripped of any ground of pride as when one knows themselves to be utterly naked except for the covering of Christ’s righteousness as equally imputed to every child of God (Gen 3:21; Isa 61:10; Mt 22:11-12). Is this not the deep death to self righteousness that permits God to grant the greater fruitfulness of His life in and through us, as surely as the dead wood of Aaron’s rod was made to bud?
The glory of the mystery of the gospel is that Christ is the only true “doer”, even as He alone was the only true fulfiller of the law. He was no less the only true and living doer in the OT saints to whom the righteousness of His perfectly lived life was also imputed (Gen 15:6; Ps 32:2; Ro 4:3, 5-6, 22). Peter is clear that the OT faithful were also indwelt by the “Spirit of Christ” (1Pet 1:11), and this grace of the indwelling Spirit of Christ was only ever on the basis of the foretold life and death of the coming Deliverer (Gen 3:15; Isa 53:5, 8, 10-11; Dan 9:26; Acts 26:22-23; Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:11).
This means the future life and blood atonement of Christ was no less equally availing for the OT faithful. They looked for one who would not be under the curse, but through the bruising of his heel inflict the mortal wound on the Serpent’s head and thus reverse the curse (Gen 3:15). They were no less justified by faith, and no less dependent on the quickening, regenerating power of the Holy Spirit (see the metaphors for necessity of regeneration in the following: Deut 30:6 with Jer 4:4; Ro 2:29; Jn 3:6, 27; 1Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1; Isa 26:12; 45:25; 54:17; 55:1-3; with Eze 18:31; Heb 7:22; Rev 13:8).
Although the OT witness is not as clear and frequent as the NT witness, both testaments agree to show that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is indispensably vital for life. Even before the full revelation of the mystery of the gospel, the OT faithful were no less “born again by the Word of God” (1Pet 1:23), and therefore partakers of His divine nature (2Pet 1:4).
Examination of these and other select verses will show that aspects of the new covenant that would be established with the nation in “that (future) day” were already available to the individual. Ezekiel is clear that his contemporaries would die in their sins if they did not then, at that very time in history, avail themselves of the available new heart and new spirit of the new covenant (Eze 18:31-32). What would one day be the experience of the whole of the nation, was even now a present imperative for the individual.
The same is true of the promised “everlasting covenant” that Isaiah here calls, “the sure mercies of David” (Isa 55:3). Certainly, the promise in its fullest aspect awaits establishment with the whole of the nation in the coming messianic era, yet here, the life of this “everlasting covenant” is held forth as presently available to the thirsty soul willing to “hear and live” at the time Isaiah penned these words (Isa 55:1-3). Even the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was promised as available to the peninent OT believer in (Prov1:23 KJV).
The future “everlasting covenant” (Isa 55:3; 61:8; Jer 32:40; Eze 37:25) and the bringing in of “everlasting righteousness” (Dan 9:24) still lay in the future. This is not only because Christ was yet to come in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), but because the covenant promise required, not merely a remnant, but the salvation of “all Israel” (Ro 11:26).
Paul’s phrase, “all Israel”, envisions that time foretold by all the prophets when all of the nation would know the Lord ‘from that day and forward” (Eze 39:22). This great transformation would not only extend to the Jewish survivors of the final tribulation (“Zion’s travail”), but would be made equally sure to all future generations of children born to Jewish parents (Isa 45:25; 44:3; 54:13; 59:21: 60:21; 65:23; Jer 31:34; Eze 37:25).
Only when the righteousness of Christ (“the everlasting righteousness” of Dan 9:24) will be imputed, not only to a remnant, but to the whole of the nation, unto children’s children, “world without end” (Isa 45:17), only then will permanent peace in the Promised Land be eternally secure.
To inherit the Land forever in enduring peace and security requires a righteousness that is forever. That righteousness is not one’s own. It has only one source. It was wrought out in the humanity of the last Adam on our behalf over some 33 ½ year of spotless obedience under the exacting examination of the holy law of God. It is not only a righteousness that ‘lasts forever’; it is everlasting because it is the righteousness of the everlasting God. Although progress in the grace of personal sanctification, and eternal rewards may greatly vary, as the different brightnesses of the heavenly luminaries (1Cor 15:41), nevertheless, it is the whole of Christ’s life, as fully approved of the law and the Father, this is the righteousness that God imputes in the full to the least and newest believer in Jesus.
This raises the question, “what is our part?” Our part is to yield to the Spirit, and be “led by the Spirit” (Ro 8:24), putting to death the deeds of the body, not by mere human determination, but by the Spirit (Ro 8:13). We understand this mystery of two distinct persons working in union through the power of one common source in the one divine nature by the analogy of how the works and words of Jesus were not His own but the Father’s (Jn 14:10-24). This means every word He spoke and every work He worked was in a perfect unity of nature with His Father.
Jesus’ disclaimer that the works and words were NOT His own but the Father’s anticipates Paul’s claim to a righteousness not his own (Phil 3:9) and of labors more abundant that he qualifies as “yet not I” (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 2:20). Because untainted by the fall by reason of the virgin birth, the uniquely begotten Son was preserved in a glorious helplessness to do anything independently of the Father.
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
In a somewhat similar way, with one important difference, the believer by yielding to the Spirit is not doing his or her own work but the “works God”, the very first and chief among which is to “believe on Him whom He has sent” (Jn 6:29), a thing impossible for the natural man to accomplish apart from the drawing, quickening grace of the Holy Spirit (Jn 6:44, 65; Eph 2:1, 8-9; Phil 1:29).
All is to say, there has ever been only one true acceptable doer of that one righteousness that can alone be accepted for eternal life and eternal reward and this life is only mediated by the precious gift of trusting, child-like faith in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. In both His pre-existence as the Word, and the perfect life He lived by the power of the Spirit, He is the only acceptable source of any works that count forever.
Those precious lines, “only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last”, might be slightly edited to say, “only what’s done BY Christ will last.” This is because, according to 1Cor 3:12-15, not all works done ‘for’ Christ (in His name) will stand the test of fire. But those works that were led (inclined) by the Spirit will endure as eternal reward, even when done spontaneously and unconsciously because of the love of God that has been shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (“When did we see You?”; Mt 25:37-39, 44).