Three Great Acts of Imputation (Machen)

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing the biblical teaching on the topic, says that all mankind sinned in Adam, “and fell with him in that first transgression.”    Because Adam was in a covenant situation, our representative, his trespass led to our condemnation (Rom. 5:18).  How does this work?  How come I bear the guilt for Adam’s sin?  J. Gresham Machen explained this very well in The Christian View of Man.  Note how he ties it in with the gospel:

…I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare.  At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the cross.  If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.

The Apostle Paul insists upon this analogy in the latter part of the fifth chapter of Romans.  In that part of that chapter we find set forth the great Scripture doctrine that is called the doctrine of imputation.

That doctrine, if you take it as the Bible sets it forth as a whole, involves three great acts of imputation.  First, Adam’s first sin is imputed to his descendents.  Second, the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ.  Third, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people.

When the Bible teaches that the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ, that means that Christ on the cross bore the penalty rightly resting on saved people.  He was not deserving of death; he had not sinned at all.  Yet he suffered as though he had sinned.  God treated him as though he had sinned, although he was not a sinner.  The sin for which he died was not a sin that he had committed; it was our sin that was imputed to him.

So when the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people, that does not mean that the saved people are then actually righteous.  On the contrary, they are sinners.  But they receive the blessed reward of life which Christ’s righteousness deserved.  Christ’s righteousness is not actually theirs, but it is imputed to them.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about being justified by faith alone!

J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Your Judge is also Your Advocate and Savior (Toplady)

 One of the most difficult struggles in the Christian life is the constant struggle with sin and guilt.  We aren’t perfect; we still have remnants of the old man in us.  This world is no friend of grace, and Satan won’t leave us alone.  But Jesus is our Savior.  He died, rose again, and is now constantly interceding for us.  I love how Augustus Toplady wrote about this in a letter to a friend on March 6, 1767:

…Satan, no doubt, will be ever ready to bring in the indictment, and conscience cannot help pleading guilty to a great part of the charge: but remember, that your judge is, at the very same time, your advocate and Savior. He is a lover of your soul, and was the propitiation for your sins; they cannot be too numerous, nor too heinous, for mercy like his to pardon, nor for merit like his to cover.

Only flee to him for refuge, fly to the hiding place of his righteousness, death and intercession; and then, the enemy can have no final advantage over you, nor the son of wickedness approach to hurt you, in your everlasting interest. Assault you he may, in your way to the kingdom of God; overcome you he cannot, if you look, or desire to look, to Jesus for safety; lie at his blessed feet for protection; lay hold on his victorious cross for salvation; and then you shall find him gracious to relieve, mighty to deliver, and faithful to uphold. Cast [your] anchor on his love, and be happy, rely on his omnipotence, and be safe.

 Toplady, A. M. (1825). The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (Vol. 6, pp. 136–137). London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Paul’s Devastating Exposure of Universal Sin and Guilt (Stott)

 Romans 3:19-20 makes this declaration: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (NET Bible).

I appreciate John Stott’s conclusions on this part of Romans 3:

In conclusion, how should we respond to Paul’s devastating exposure of universal sin and guilt, as we read it at the end of the twentieth century? We should not try to evade it by changing the subject and talking instead of the need for self-esteem, or by blaming our behaviour on our genes, nurturing, education or society. It is an essential part of our dignity as human beings that, however much we may have been affected by negative influences, we are not their helpless victims, but rather responsible for our conduct. Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. For we have no merit to plead and no excuse to make. We too stand before God speechless and condemned. Only then shall we be ready to hear the great ‘But now’ of verse 21, as Paul begins to explain how God has intervened through Christ and his cross for our salvation.

 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pp. 104–105). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ’s Blood and the Christian Conscience (Ash)

 One absolutely wonderful part of being a Christian is having a clear conscience before God and others.  It all has to do with what Jesus did for me: he lived a perfect life for me, died on the cross for me, and was raised from the dead for me.  Because of this, by faith I receive his righteousness and my sins are washed away: I am justified by God.  Therefore I have peace with God and there is no condemnation in my future (Rom. 5:1, 8:1).  Over and over I look to Christ to remember and rejoice in the fact that these things are true – this helps my conscience remain free and clear.  Christopher Ash comments well on this:

Learning to do this [look to Christ and his cleansing blood] is important for Christian stability.  If I am not sure about what Christ has done for me, I will always be dissatisfied how I relate to God, dogged by uncertainty and insecurity.  When someone (a peddler in the spirituality marketplace) offers me a new technique that will cure my spiritual depression, I will be the first to sign up.  If someone tells me about a church on the other side of the world where this cure is being experienced, I will save up and fly out there to get the cure, the ‘new thing that God is doing,’ all because I will not believe what God says.  Instead of wasting my money, I need to think about the new and living way Jesus has opened up for me into the immediate presence of God.  When my heart is filled with the wonder of this truth, I will be oblivious to the attraction of second-rate substitutes.

So the death of Christ not only deals with the objective truth of our guilt before God, but also addresses our subjective awareness of that guilt.  It changes not only the way we are before God, our actual status, but also our perception and our inward thoughts about ourselves. By faith we say to ourselves, ‘God says I have been made perfect in and by the obedience of Jesus Christ.  And I believe that what God says is true.  I have been made perfect.  I am cleansed at the deepest level of human personhood.  Not only my actions and words, but my memories are cleansed too.  So that when conscience drags up in my memory something of which I am ashamed, faith says to conscience that this thing, this sin, this impurity, this greed, this omission, this cowardice, whatever it may be, has been made clean by the blood of Christ.  All of it.”

I take it that this is what John means in 1 John 1:9 when he says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, p.146-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (CPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


The Christian and Death-bed Guilt (Newton)

Some Christians struggle with their guilt, sin, and unworthiness more than others.  Quite a few Christians have a roller coaster experience with guilt.  For awhile their guilt almost disappears and they very much feel the comfort of being forgiven and loved by God.  But other times their guilt brings them grief because they can’t feel God’s forgiveness and love.  John Newton does a great job of talking about grief over sin and comfort in Christ on the death-bed.  This is an excerpt of a letter to a friend in 1774.

We have had trying and dying times here: half my time almost has been taken up with visiting the sick. I have seen death in a variety of forms, and have had frequent occasion of observing how insignificant many things, which are now capable of giving us pain or pleasure, will appear, when the soul is brought near to the borders of eternity. All the concerns which relate solely to this life, will then be found as trivial as the traces of a dream from which we are awakened. Nothing will then comfort us but the knowledge of Jesus and his love; nothing grieve us but the remembrance of our unfaithful carriage to him, and what poor returns we made to his abundant goodness. The Lord forbid that this thought should break our peace!

No; faith in his name may forbid our fear, though we shall see and confess we have been unprofitable servants. There shall be no condemnation to them that are in him: but surely shame and humiliation will accompany us to the very threshold of heaven and ought to do so. I surely shall then be more affected than I am now with the coolness of my love, the faintness of my zeal, the vanity of my heart, and my undue attachment to the things of time. O these clogs, fetters, vales, and mountains, which obstruct my course, darken my views, slacken my pace, and disable me in service! Well it is for me that I am not under the law, but under grace.

As Newton looked ahead and thought about his own death, he knew his own heart well enough to realize that he would probably grieve because his service to Christ was so weak and imperfect.

But Newton understood sovereign grace.  The last line of this quote isn’t a sad concession, but a strong confession that all of his hope in life and in death was that God is gracious to sinners.  “Saved by grace” is not just a slogan.  It is comforting gospel truth in life and in death.  It’s true whether the Christian feels it or not.

I think we can all say this with Newton:

“Well it is for me that I am not under the law, but under grace.”

This quote from Newton is found in volume 2, page 201 of his Works.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

When Satan Reminds You of Your Sin

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Satan is an expert at rubbing our noses in our past sins.  He knows how to plague Christians by telling them their sins are so great they should despair.  He masks the truth (“You have sinned greatly against God in thousands of ways…”) with a lie (“…Therefore you have no hope of salvation”).  Puritan Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) said that this is one of Satan’s wicked devices to keep Christians away from Christ: He suggests to the soul the greatness and vileness of his sins.  Brooks also gives biblical remedies for this wicked device of Satan.  Here are four (of eight) remedies (summarized/edited):

1)  The first remedy against this device of Satan is to consider that the greater your sins are, the more you stand in need of a Savior.  The greater your burden is, the more you stand in need of one to help bear it.  The deeper the wound is, the more need there is of a surgeon.  The Christian says: ‘The greater my sins are, the more I stand in need of mercy and pardon, therefore I will go to Christ, who delights in mercy, pardons sins, and is able to forgive beyond imagination” (Mic. 7:8, Is. 43:25).

2) Another remedy against Satan’s wicked device is to remember that the promise of grace and mercy is to returning souls.  You are never so wicked, if you return to God, that he will be yours, mercy will be yours, pardon will be yours: ‘For the Lord our God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return unto him (2 Chr. 30:9).  See also Jer. 3:12, Joel 2:13, and Is. 55:7.  Christ’s heart and arms are wide open to embrace the returning prodigal.

3) Consider that the greatest sinners have obtained mercy, and therefore all the angels in heaven, all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell cannot testify to the contrary, that you are able to obtain mercy.  Consider Manasseh, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  Christ still hangs out a white flag of grace and mercy to returning sinners that humble themselves at his feet for favor.

4) The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is to remember that everywhere in Scripture Jesus welcomes the worst of sinners that are willing to receive him and rest upon him for happiness and blessedness.  Those that come to him he will not cast out, be they ever so filthy, sinful, unworthy, or rebellious.  Oh sinners, tell Jesus that he since he has not excluded you from mercy, therefore you are resolved to sit, wait, weep, pray, and knock at the door of mercy until he says to you, ‘Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven, you are justified, and your soul shall be saved.’  See also Heb. 7:25.

Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (appendix I.1.)

shane lems

No Fishing Allowed

Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross... Every Day I enjoy fishing. In fact, my three boys and I recently returned from a camping trip on which we caught a handful of trout up in the general area of Mt. Rainier, WA.  So this illustration Jerry Bridges referred to in his book The Gospel for Real Life caught my attention.

The verse Bridges is talking about in the following quote is Micah 7:19: [You will] hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (NIV).

“Notice the forceful verb, ‘hurl,’ that Micah uses.  The picture is of God vigorously disposing of our sins by hurling them overboard.  He doesn’t just drop them over the side or even pitch them overboard; he ‘hurls’ them as something to be rid of and forgotten.”

“The picture here is of God eager to put away our sins.  Because the sacrifice of his Son is of such infinite value, he delights to apply it to sinful men and women.  God is not a reluctant forgiver; he is a joyous one.  His justice having been satisfied and his wrath having been exhausted [through Christ’s work on the cross], he is now eager to extend his forgiveness to all who trust in his Son as their propitiatory sacrifice.”

“He hurls our sins overboard.  What a picture of the way God treats our sins.  Corrie ten Boom, a dear saint of the last century, used to say, ‘And then God put up a sign saying, “No fishing allowed.”’  Why would she say that?  Because she knew that we tend to drag up our old sins, that we tend to live under a vague sense of guilt.  She knew we are not nearly as vigorous in appropriating God’s forgiveness as he is in extending it.  Consequently, instead of living in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness through Christ, we tend to live under an overcast sky of guilt most of the time.”

We have to memorize the verse and remind ourselves of this gospel truth often: God hurls all our iniquities into the depth of the sea (Mic. 7:19).  He doesn’t hurl some of our sins into a shallow pond, but all of them into the depths of the sea.  That is good news!

Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 62.

rev shane lems

sunnyside, wa