Below is my part of an email exchange with a dear brother who is questioning the exegetical basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This was “on the fly,” and I was sharing with my friend other resources to more fully address his questions. Anyway, here it is:
One quick thought. Luther rightly said to the effect, “All true theology is grammatical / lexical.” I’ve included below the TDNT on the Greek verb, δικαιοῦν, to justify. To summarize / simplify, the word as used in the Pauline corpus (and in the LXX) carries the positive meaning, “to declare righteous” – not MERELY the negative meaning “not guilty / pardoned.” Christ is our righteousness. His doing and dying for us is the legal basis of God’s declaration that we are just before Him – His Law is fully satisfied in its negative sanctions and its positive demand of perfect righteousness. As a result of God’s justifying verdict, we receive the eschatological reward of LIFE, which is the reward of righteousness. To ignore the lexical meaning of “justify” and Paul’s connection of righteousness and life – as pertaining to our present justification AND our future justification – is to abandon the biblical attainments of the Protestant Reformation. Works are judged in the Last Day and vindicate the fact that we are justified ones, united to Christ by a living / active faith. These works do not serve the as the basis of our “final justification,” lest Christ lived and died and rose for us in vain. …
I would agree that justification is a speech-act – a declaration of God as judge and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Justification does not impart any change in moral character, etc. It is a righteousness which leads unto eternal life, i.e., the basis on which we enter into life. The Law says, “Do this and live; fail to do this and die – eternally.” The Gospel says, “Christ has done all for you; He died for your sin, and His righteousness (i.e., perfect obedience in your stead) has won for you the gift of eternal life.” Christ, like Adam, acted in a representative capacity for His people. He kept the Law for us, died because of our transgressions of it, and was raised to vindicate His saving work / confirm our justification. Justification is all about the verdict of God the Judge of all the earth. It is both now and not yet. It is the verdict of the Last Day brought forward, received by faith, which will be publicly declared to His justified ones on Judgment Day – whose works vindicate they are indeed the sheep of His right hand.
Phew… Sorry about the jumble of words, hope that makes sense.
… Imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a clear implication of many texts, taken together with the meaning of “justify,” and our need in view of the demand of God’s Law (this do and live v. the just by faith shall live). A couple of quick examples: CHRIST is our RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD (1 Cor 1:30) – thus Paul’s desire to be found not in his own righteousness which is from the Law, but that which is THROUGH faith in Christ, the RIGHTEOUSNESS which is FROM GOD by faith (Phil 3:9). Rom 5:19, by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. The obedience here is implicitly comprehensive (as Adam’s was expected to be!). We are declared guilty in Adam due to his disobedience. We are declared righteous in Christ due to His obedience.
[A few quick exegetical thoughts on Gal 3:21-22:] In a redemptive historical context, Paul asks: “Is the law [epitomized in the Mosaic covenant] against the promises of God [given to Abraham and pointing forward to His Seed, Christ]? Certainly not! [Why not? Because they are compatible? No, because they serve two different purposes.] For if there had been a LAW given which could have given LIFE, truly RIGHTEOUSNESS would have been by the law [this is the unchanging condition of the Law, even as given to Adam & Eve – “Obey and live” or “Disobey and die”; righteousness, obedience to God’s Law-Word, is the condition of eschatological life, thus, as the Westminster Divines called it the “covenant of LIFE” AND the “covenant of WORKS.”] But the Scripture has confined all [not just Jews under the Mosaic covenant, but every human being] under sin, that the promise [of what? Of LIFE, the reward of RIGHTEOUSNESS] by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Etc. :-)
Obviously, much more could be said. But that’s all I had time for. Exegesis & theology on the fly, if you will. Oh, and beware the chronological snobbery of NPP!