Teaching once again on justification this Sunday, this time from Psalm 32, I felt like I needed to go back to 2 Corinthians 5:21 and settle in my mind, once and for all, its meaning, especially in regard to becoming “the righteousness of God in him.” In my searching through my Logos library, I found that John Owen had the most extensive, and best discussion (“Doctrine of Justification by Faith”, Works of John Owen, Vol. 5). His reasoning is sound, and comports with, and solidifies my own thinking, which, succinctly stated, is that while 2 Corinthians 5:21 presumes upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (and can thus be used to prove imputation), it is referring to God’s righteousness given to us, or made ours, in union with Christ. Thus, justification takes place as we are united to Christ, his righteousness is imputed to us by God, a righteousness that is God’s own, and we are thus made righteous before God. I have cited a few sections I found particularly helpful below.

But the one challenge of Owen’s view to my own is that he is happy to go beyond the narrowly juridical or forensic bounds of justification and to conclude that justification “makes” one righteous. Up until now, I have been reluctant to use this language. However, Owen is hardly alone in the Reformed tradition. John Murray comes to mind who, citing Rom 5:19, states, “The justifying act is constitutive. But since this cannot negate the forensic meaning, it must be within the forensic sphere that it is constitutive. Hence we may sum up by saying that justification of the ungodly is constitutively and imputatively declarative” (p535, Romans [NICNT] 1975)

So, as recently as a a couple months ago, I stated in conversation that I disagreed with Murray. But perhaps Murray is not going so far as I thought he was. He is not saying, it would seem, that justification transforms someone, but rather that in the law-room metaphor, we are made righteous in God’s sight, which would still be declarative rather than constitutional or transformative, which would cross the line into sanctification. And I say that as one wanting to strongly hold the line between justification and sanctification even though I emphasize monergistic sanctification in my theology.

In answer hereunto, and by virtue hereof, we are made “the righteousness of God in him.” This was the end of his being made sin for us. And by whom are we so made? It is by God himself: for “it is God that justifieth,” Rom. 8:33; it is God who “imputeth righteousness,” chap. 4:6. Wherefore it is the act of God in our justification that is intended; and to be made the righteousness of God is to be made righteous before God, though emphatically expressed by the abstract for the concrete, to answer what was said before of Christ being made sin for us. To be made the righteousness of God is to be justified; and to be made so in him, as he was made sin for us, is to be justified by the imputation of his righteousness unto us, as our sin was imputed unto him. (p351)
No man can assign any other way whereby he was made sin, especially his being made so by God, but by God’s laying all our iniquities upon him,—that is, imputing our sin unto him. How, then, are we made the righteousness of God in him? “By the infusion of a habit of grace,” say the Papists generally. Then, by the rule of antithesis, he must be made sin for us by the infusion of a habit of sin; which would be a blasphemous imagination. “By his meriting, procuring, and purchasing righteousness for us,” say others. So, possibly, we might be made righteous by him; but so we cannot be made righteous in him. This can only be by his righteousness as we are in him, or united unto him. To be righteous in him is to be righteous with his righteousness, as we are one mystical person with him. Wherefore,— To be made the righteousness of God in Christ, as he was made sin for us, and because he was so, can be no other but to be made righteous by the imputation of his righteousness unto us, as we are in him or united unto him. All other expositions of these words are both jejune and forced, leading the mind from the first, plain, obvious sense of them. (p351)
The imputation of sin unto Christ was antecedent unto any real union between him and sinners, whereon he took their sin on him as he would, and for what ends he would; but the imputation of his righteousness unto believers is consequential in order of nature unto their union with him, whereby it becomes theirs in a peculiar manner: so as that there is not a parity of reason that he should be esteemed a sinner, as that they should be accounted righteous. (p353–354)

I was also thankful for Owen pointing me to Isa 45:24-25: “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”



No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *