We say no sin is too great and no sinner is too far (excepting, 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 there a greater, more sovereign revelation than that which broke upon the thief on the cross at the point of greatest weakness and self-despair!
This profound spiritual principle – manifest throughout the scriptures – is most clearly seen at Israel’s appointed time of national deliverance. The veil covering the Jewish heart will be removed “at the set time” …“in one day”…“at once” 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 critically, this transformative revelation is given “when He (Yahweh) sees that their power is gone” (Deut 32:36 with Dan 12:7).
The power of His endless life is revealed at the end of the pride of self-reliance (the strength of the veil) which hides the transformative liberating revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 3:14-18; 4:6). This withering process of crisis is critical for shattering the pride of self-reliance, not only in the unbelieving, but as Paul explains, God wisely uses it even in the lives of the godly (Acts 14:22; 2Cor 1:8-10; 12:7).
At the inception of faith, the free gift of an everlasting righteousness is immediately imputed. 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). This is why the Law must come first (Jn 1:17). When the real implications of the law’s holy requirement is brought home to the heart, the gospel of a righteousness that is utterly transcends our hearts becomes exceedingly good news.
What a freedom to no longer cast about in endless fruitless 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 that simple, child-like reliance on His finished work, and united 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, nor simply the forgiveness that required His death. It is the imputation of the merits of His perfect sinless life, meeting all the demands of the Law as “the last Adam”, our human representative (Mt 3:15; Gal 4:4; Ro 4:3, 5-6, 23-24; 15:45).
Like the gift of faith itself, this magnificent exchange is near and available to any sinner. This gift is not simply faith in the many facts of the truth. It is the 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, and the death died. The resurrection and ascent to the Father’s right hand proves that the debt has been paid – past, present and future – “tetelestai” – paid in full.
To such a simple, undivided trust in Christ’s only sufficient righteousness – with no contribution from anything within the reach of natural power – no matter how weak or how late the hour – to this faith in Christ alone 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.
But the Divine purpose is not only that we might be pardoned from the curse of the law. It also intends that we might be blessed with the blessing which the law itself must confer on the only life that ever 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 in the same measure as 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 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.
Because He is the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, 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 in OT times – the only source of power by which to acceptably do the will of God. The NT revelation of the mystery of “Christ in you” implies that in the OT period, 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 part, but 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 a great difference in the degree of personal sanctification, maturity, and eternal reward (some 30, 60, 100-fold), the most saintly of saints cannot be more justified or faultless before the throne than the one who has just been born again a minute before Jesus returns. The only source of life and godliness was purchased by His life and death, making the dead to live by the gift of the Spirit.
This standing in grace is as certainly assured to the nascent faith of the newest believer as to the most mature or spiritually gifted. In this once-for-all imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there is no distinction because all are part of the body of Christ.
Not only did He deliver us from hell by His death, but He also won heaven and eternal blessing by living the only life that could not be cut off by the law, for 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 also fell short of the perfect doing of the law in all points. But not so Jesus Christ!
The only true doer became a curse in order that the non-doer might be made “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ alone is “the habitation of righteousness” (Jer 50:7); 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 (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 to make the atoning death on our behalf. It is not only His passive obedience on the cross (the death He willingly accepted); it is His active obedience throughout the life He lived under the law, being tested in all points. This quintessential lived-out life rendered the body to be offered up as the perfect and efficacious satisfaction that turned away the Divine 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 fully imputed to even the newest believer.
Of course, good works 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” (Phil 3:3-4) 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 finished work on our behalf, and pledged to abide and preserve us until we are perfected at His return (1Jn 3:2). Where there has been this deep severance from all fleshly reliance – as all self-reliance is replaced by a simple, undivided 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 himself 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 within them” (1Pet 1:11), and this grace of the indwelling Spirit of Christ was only ever given 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).
For this reason, the future life and blood atonement of Christ was no less equally availing for the OT faithful. From the perspective of “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”, they, like NT believers, also looked back to One whose work was finished in the past, who would not be under the curse, but through the bruising of His heel, would 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 (2 Pet 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 will one day be the experience of the whole of the nation was – even then – a present imperative for the individual.
The same is true of the promised “everlasting covenant” that Isaiah 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 penitent OT believer (Prov 1:23 KJV).
The “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 scope of 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 have been 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 permanent, but that righteousness cannot be one’s own. It has only one source. It was wrought out in the humanity of the last Adam on our behalf, over approximately 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 much as the varying brightness of the heavenly luminaries (1Cor 15:41), nevertheless, it is the whole of Christ’s life, as fully approved by the Law and the Father, that constitutes the righteousness that God imputes in full to the least and newest believer in Jesus.
What is our part?
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, which 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). Since He was untainted by the fall via 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 of 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.” According to 1 Cor 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).