JI Packer: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification

An excellent article, more than worth your time to read:

Behind Calvin’s phrase, “the imputation of the righteousness of Christ,” lies the characteristic “Christ-and-his-people” Christology which was the center of reference-the hub of the wheel, we might say-of the Reformers’ entire doctrine of grace. The concern of this Christology, as of the New Testament Christology which molded it, is soteriological, and its key-thought is participation through exchange. This idea is spelled out as follows. The Son of God came down from heaven in order to bring us to share with him the glory to which he has now returned. By incarnation he entered into solidarity with us, becoming through his Father’s appointment the last Adam, the second head of the race, acting on our behalf in relation to God. As man, he submitted to the great and decisive exchange set forth in II Corinthians 5: 21: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “This,” said Luther, “is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners, wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it, and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them. So that now the righteousness of Christ is ours not only objectively (as they term it) but formally also”—that is, it is not only an ontological reality, “there” for our benefit in some general sense, but actually imparts to us the “form,” i.e., the characteristic, of being righteous in God’s sight.9 Our sins were reckoned (imputed) to Christ, so that he bore God’s judgment on them, and in virtue of this his righteousness is reckoned ours, so that we are pardoned, accepted, and given a righteous man’s status for his sake. Christians in themselves are sinners who never fully meet the law’s demands; nonetheless, says Luther, “they are righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them.10 On this basis, despite all the shortcomings of which they are conscious, believers may be sure of eternal salvation, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And this, said the Reformers, is what it means to know Christ; for we do not know him, however much else we may know about him, till we see him as Christ pro nobis, dying, rising, and reigning for us as our gracious Saviour…more

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