Christianity in the past 500 years or so views justification–accounted or imputed righteousness–as a mind game. That God simply thinks differently about us even though we’re exactly the same sinful person.
But justification is not some floaty concept. He who doeth righteousness is righteous. If you’ve been accounted righteous, you do righteous things. Don’t be deceived.
Paul focuses on this problem in Romans and Galatians quite a bit.
Galatians 2 is all about this idea of justification.
In doing research on this topic, I read Vincent’s Word Studies on Galatians 2. He was talking about justification and how it’s commonly viewed as a floaty thing by many, an issue in God’s mind. But this cannot be Paul’s meaning when he speaks of justification. Here is the pertinent paragraph.
The meaning to declare or pronounce righteous cannot be consistently carried through Paul’s writings in the interest of a theological fiction of imputed righteousness. See, for example, Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 6:11; and all passages where the word is used to describe justification by works of the law, as here, Galatians 3:11; Galatians 5:4. If one is a real righteousness, founded upon his conformity to the law. Why is the righteousness of faith any less a real righteousness?
Notice that he refers to imputed righteousness as a “theological fiction.” It’s always nice to hear someone else come to the same conclusions! Especially when that someone knows more than me and is way more qualified!
If righteousness were merely a mind game concept, a floaty, non-real thing, then how can it be compared with a law-keeping righteousness?
If you kept all the law, you would indeed be counted as righteous. The problem is that you can’t keep all the law, and if you fail in one point, you are guilty of breaking the whole thing.
Therefore, we need another means of justification besides keeping all the law.
The answer: FAITH. Everyone who has ever been justified has been justified by faith through the gracious provision of God. No flesh has ever been justified by deeds of the law.
We place our faith in God that He can indeed justify us, that He can make us righteous and that we, through Him, can now do righteous things.
The righteousness provided by faith is just as legitimate as a righteousness that kept the whole law. It would be just as practical and evident.
That’s Vincent’s point above.
The righteousness that the Gospel provides, the same Gospel that was preached before unto Abraham, gives us an active, living righteousness.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, 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.
I sure hope you catch those words! The righteousness of the law will be fulfilled in us. Not in a mind game, but in reality.
The Spirit will mortify the deeds of the body and equip us to be servants of righteousness.
There is no way that Paul thinks justification is a floaty, non-real concept. Paul actually believes that people can be made righteous, not just in standing, but in actual action.
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.