By James W. Adams
(Author’s Note: This article was written and published as an editorial in the September 1952 issue of Truth In Love of which I was the editor. My views today are essentially the same as those expressed in the article. jwa)
The universality of sin is a fact which no man who admits the existence of evil would think of denying. Man’s inability to liberate himself from its guilt, love, and dominion is a fact equally as well known and as universally acknowledged. Experience and observation unquestionably confirm the statements of inspiration: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23); and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
The recognition of evil logically demands a recognition of righteousness. To admit the existence of evil is to give tacit recognition to a standard by which thoughts, words, and deeds are determined to be good or evil. To recognize such a standard is to agree that it is the law of life. If men are to submit to such a law, it must possess authority. To possess authority, it must be infallible. Men are not likely to submit themselves to a law of life that can give no evidence of being infallibly correct. Imperfect beings cannot give to the world a perfect law of life. An infallible law could emanate only from a perfect being. This accounts for the moral decadence and corruption of heathen religions and the devotees of all ideologies that are fundamentally atheistic.
The very existence of evil in the world, therefore, demands the existence of God and a standard of life emanating from Him. Christians worship the one, true, and living God and subscribe to the Bible as His word or law of life. All evil results from sin -transgressions of God’s law of life as revealed in the Bible. Law, however, is impotent unless it provides for the punishment of the transgressor. If law may be violated with impunity, its authority is subverted and its majesty degraded. God’s law of life has ever provided for the punishment of the transgressor. The prophet said, “The soul that sinneth it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Paul said, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Eternal death is the penalty which has ever attached to Heaven’s law. Since all have sinned, each responsible being is a condemned transgressor. The facts in the case are clear. The guilt of the transgressor is established. The sinner, therefore, is under condemnation and waits but for the judgment for the inflicting of the penalty.
He is helpless of himself to do ought that would justify his salvation. Only the intervention of Divine power can save him. God cannot disregard transgression and, at the same time, uphold the majesty and power of His law. Yet, infinite love yearned for the salvation of the creature who bore the image of his Creator. From this infinite yearning and heavenly passion, the scheme of human redemption was born. God’s law could not permit transgression with impunity, but could and did admit of pardon through a substitute offering for sin.
Naught could adequately serve in this capacity save that which was absolutely sinless. Only a perfect being, hence only a Divine victim, would suffice. For this cause, Jesus “who knew no sin” came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” as the Word of God “made flesh” and by His sinless life and sacrificial death on the cross “condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-4). In this Res the explanation of such passages as these: “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3); “This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:28); “The love of Christ constraineth us because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Cor. 5:14); “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:6-8).
Concerning Imputed Righteousness
Denominations, and some of my own brethren, have greatly erred in supposing that “imputed righteousness” is an imputation of the perfect, personal righteousness of Christ to the sinner. The personal righteousness of one person cannot be imputed to another. Paul clearly shows that the righteousness possessed by the sinner (through faith in Christ, jwa) is attained through forgiveness or pardon. He quotes David as saying, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven.” Christ, the perfect human, the Divine victim, offered Himself as man’s substitute on the cross to make possible man’s forgiveness without vitiating Divine law. When the sinner accepts the offering of Christ through gospel obedience, he is pardoned, forgiven, hence is then righteous before God. He has sinned (hence stood condemned, jwa), but through forgiveness has become guiltless, therefore possesses “imputed righteousness.”
Baptist preachers (and other Calvinists, jwa) suppose David’s statement, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin,” to mean that the child of God can do any evil thing under the sun, and God will not regard him as being guilty whether he is ever penitent or not. The passage teaches nothing of the kind. God provides a plan for the forgiveness of His children as well as one for the forgiveness of the alien sinner. In no case does he propose to overlook and forgive unconditionally the sins of men (saints or aliens, jwa).
The Conditions of Remission of Sins
That Christ died for all, Paul says, is just as certain as the fact that all are dead (2 Cor. 5:14). The blessings of the sacrificial offering of Christ are made available to all, but they are not bestowed upon them unconditionally. Such would be tantamount to passing by sin without adequate punishment and would be subversive of the majesty, dignity, and power of Divine law, as much so as it would have been without the death of Christ. The sinner must see in Christ crucified the heinous character of sin, the awful penalty of transgression, and the glory and majesty of Divine law. In response to Heaven’s overtures of mercy in Christ he must: Believe in Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world (the Divine victim) (1 Cor. 15:1-3); viewing the awful character of sin and its just penalty, he must be led to a state of deep penitence (Acts 3:19); he must make a public acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9,10); and he must submit himself to His rulership by being buried with him by baptism into His death unto the remission of his sins (Rom. 6:4; Acts 2:38).
Corroborative of these facts are the following incidents from apostolic history. Cornelius the Gentile was told, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). You will note, this passage does not teach that the sinner receives remission of sins through faith only, but rather, he receives it through the name of Christ. In verse 48, Peter commands them “to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”, The Jews in Solomon’s porch were told, “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out . . . ” (Acts 3:19). Believers on the day of Pentecost were told, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
No person can consistently (or correctly, jwa) claim to be a child of God and enjoy the righteousness of God who has not complied with the Divine conditions of pardon. The assurance of our pardon (and a right standing with God, jwa) lies in the integrity of Divine promises. Hence, no person can have the assurance (of salvation, jwa) who has not met Divine conditions (upon which it is predicated, jwa). The child of God, having accepted Christ as his offering for sin (in primary gospel obedience, jwa) has Divine assurance of pardon for all sins committed after baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:27) upon the conditions of repentance, confession, and prayer (Acts 8:13-23; 1 John 1:9).
(I have exercised the prerogative of slightly changing my terminology in the original article in a few places to make the meaning clearer. Too, I have inserted in parentheses a few commentsfor the same purpose. Otherwise, the article is just as it originally appeared. If I were writing the article today, I wouldprobably express myself in spots in a slightly different manner, but the import would be the same. jwa)
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 9, pp. 257, 271
May 7, 1987