Justification is a big deal. Everyone seeks cosmic acceptance and affection; it’s unavoidable. The quest to prove ourselves has become, without our even being aware of it, instinctual and habitual. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans unpacks the wonder of a Jesus-justification by grace in contrast to a self-justification by self-performance. In other words, the cosmic acceptance and affection we crave and strive for is not found in people or in our performance but rather is found in Jesus and His performance.
In Romans 4 Paul says that believing in a Jesus-justification does several things to us. First, a Jesus-justification helps us get over ourselves: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Rom 4.2). Paul paints the ridiculous picture of Abraham standing in the presence of limitless worth and wonder and boasting in what he has done with his life. This picture is impossible, and that is the point. We need to get over ourselves ; we have nothing to boast about before God.
What do we boast about, trust in, hope in, put our confidence in, find and feel meaning in, experience healing in, and build our lives around? “For what does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4.3). “Counted” or “credited” is used eleven times in chapter four; it’s an accounting term. The term means to confer a new status on someone or something that was not there before. Abraham’s faith conferred to him a new status of righteousness, a status that was not there before: “And to the one who does not work (or boast) but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4.5).
God does not justify good people. Only bad people are justified. What qualifies someone for justification? Are you evil? You are qualified. Are you messed-up? You are qualified. We need to get over ourselves, especially the need to think of ourselves as good people… and find our healing in the righteousness of Another.
Second, Paul says believing in a Jesus-justification helps us live with ourselves: “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’” (Rom 4.6-8). Notice what David is not saying: “Blessed is the person who does not sin. Blessed is the person who avoids sin.” David acknowledges that he is a sinner and yet still blessed. How can this be? The answer is that even though David is a sinner, his sin is not “counted” against him...the condemnation of his sin is not “conferred” to him. David’s sin does not erase God “counting” him righteous. David is always blessed “apart from (his) works” (verse 6). David is always loved, accepted, counted righteous, and forgiven… not because of his works (good or bad), but because of the work of Another.
It is possible to be evil and blessed at the same time. It is possible to be sinful and lost and righteous and found at the same time. In fact, this is real Christianity. This is how you live with yourself when you are “counted” righteous.