In an earlier Psalm King David had asked Yahweh to “judge him as his righteousness and integrity deserved” (Ps7:8). That could only be referring to his own righteousness: but in Psalm 32, almost certainly penned after his grievous sin against Uriah to gain his wife Bathsheba, he wrote “I confessed my offence to Yahweh and He took away my guilt and forgave my sin” (v5). He continued: “For blessed is the man to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt and in whose spirit is no deceit” (v2). God had forgiven his sin, accepted him as righteous or vindicated him because he confessed it from a pure heart, although he was punished through the death of Bathsheba’s son (2Sam12:14) which caused him great grief. That is the only sense in which righteousness can be imputed (cf. Rom4:11+22); it is not some “alien righteousness” imputed from another but God’s declaration that one is vindicated and accepted by Him, or in the formulation of the Psalmist God no longer imputes guilt to them for a specific offence.
Such is affirmed by the fact that before that sin was brought to his attention by Nathan the prophet, David was guilty in God’s sight of manslaughter (2Sam12:9) and liable for punishment even as God’s servant. Had David not confessed such a mortal sin, his spirit would have been tainted, his guilt would have remained as would his broken communion with His Lord and the Spirit that he enjoyed as anointed king.
The good news for David and God’s chosen people today is that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn1:9). Forgiveness whether human or divine is in a sense an imputation of righteousness – treating someone as if they had not committed a particular offence, which God is willing to do providing sins are confessed from a pure heart like David. But as Jesus makes abundantly clear throughout His ministry it will be a person’s own character and legacy that will determine their future prospects.
Paul affirms as much writing to Christians at Corinth when he warns them that they shall all one day “appear before the judgement seat of Christ and shall be paid back for the things that were done whilst in the body whether they were good or bad” (2Cor5:10). And in one of the more straight forward passages of Romans he writes:
God will repay everyone as their deeds deserve. For those who aimed for glory, honour and immortality by persevering in good works, there will be eternal life, but for those who out of jealousy have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution. Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil- Jews first but Greeks as well; glory and honour and peace will come to everyone who does good – Jews first but Greeks as well. There is no favouritism with God (Rom2:6-11)
In these cases Paul is definitively referring to final judgement as opposed to other references especially in Romans and Galatians to “justification” in the context of covenantal acceptance or the marking out of God’s chosen people. He was clarifying the fact that this was now to be through faith in Christ, not Torah observance (circumcision and other such “works of the Law“) that infiltrating Judaisers were insisting upon. These are areas I cover in detail in my book* and will no doubt feature in future posts.
*A free PDF of the e-book is available HERE