In Brothers, We are Not Professionals, John Piper shares a helpful chapter on the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith. In that chapter, Piper clarifies what the words of Paul in Romans when he says that, “faith is counted as righteousness.” Here is the author’s summary of his argument:
“When Paul says in Romans 4:3, 5, 9, and 22 that “faith is counted as righteousness,” he does not mean that our faith is our righteousness. He means that our faith unites us to Christ so that God’s righteousness in Christ is reckoned to us.”
Confused yet? The following illustration Piper shares should shed some light:
“Suppose I say to Barnabas, my teenage son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.” Well, suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up, and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences. No game.
To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit your apology and submission as a clean room. I said, ‘You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to go to watch the game tonight.’ Your room is clean. So you can go to the game.” What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology as a clean room,” is not that the apology is the clean room nor that he really cleaned his room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of counting–in my grace–his apology connects him with the promise given for a clean room. The clean room is his clean room. You can’t say it either way. And Paul said it both ways: “Faith is reckoned as righteousness, “and “God credits righteousness to us.”
So when God says to those who believe in Christ, “I credit your faith as righteousness,” He does not mean that your faith is your justifying righteousness. He means that your faith connects you to Christ who becomes your righteousness in God’s sight–God’s righteousness. That’s good news for all of us sinners.
Praise God that God has graciously given us faith, that Christ’s work has made us clean, and that we can be counted righteousness based on His finished work on the cross!