Excellent, my brother! This whole essay… point[s] to 1 Cor 4:7 long before your reference to it. Reminds me of Paul saying “if there be…”
God is orchestrating our walk as if He were The Puppeteer and we merely shadows. Though we can’t say we cast a very good imitation of The Master; hopefully we will grow more to sound the echo and less an off key resonance.
You probably don’t realize how pleasing your words and even your assessment of your own situation is to the Lord right now. I believe you are taking all of this in the right way and with the right heart, and that counts more in those heavenly places where principalities and powers are being educated through you, so much more than we tend to know.
Remember, Satan is called the accuser of the brethren for a reason. He is the supreme legalist, a prosecuting attorney of the highest skill. He is always renouncing and questioning the legality of God’s right to justify and glorify us in Christ, particularly since he can “see” so clearly all of our shame and regret in the flesh.
Since the angels, even the good angels, can only ‘desire to look into’ (1Pet 1:12) the revealed glories of the gospel, it just now occurred to me that Satan, being an angel, cannot receive the things of the Spirit anymore than the unaided flesh of the natural man. Certainly, he knows the outward form of the truth, as one on the outside looking in; but that’s just it; the heart and spirit of the truth can only be apprehended from within by the quickening of a new creation. The flesh can’t get it. In that sense, even revealed truth remains a mystery to the flesh.
Just as the sinner cannot really see the greatness of his sin apart from revelation, it is only by the Spirit that the believer can know the greatness and glory of the righteousness that has been imputed. It is none other than the very righteousness that was perfected in the humanity of Jesus. This is staggering. This “everlasting righteousness” by which even the least believer is fully justified is not from hence. It is nothing of our own (Phil 3:9).
The righteousness that justifies must fulfill the law in all points perfectly. That is why it cannot be a partial righteousness that is only beginning in its development. No, it must be imputed in the whole, as at once altogether perfect and complete. It cannot be less than that righteousness that was tested under the law and approved in all points. No other righteousness can stand in the judgment, because no other can stand in the presence of unveiled holiness. This is the dreadful point that Jesus makes in His parable of the wedding feast concerning the man that presumed to come in before the king without the designated wedding garment (Mt 22:11-13).
The prince of this world had nothing in Him, precisely because He fulfilled the law in all points. Over 33 1/2 years of active obedience, the Lamb was examined and fully approved. Even Moses who gave the law was cut off bythe law in that he died, because the law had said, “he that does it (perfectly by the Spirit) shall live in it” (Lev 18:5). That is not just a maxim of the law; it is a prophecy of the coming of the just One, since only Jesus so perfectly fulfilled the law as to not be cut off by it.
This is why Paul shows that the blessing of Abraham, strictly understood, can only bless the One (‘not seeds, as of many, but ‘Seed’, as of one). Paul sees that the word seed signifies something more than a line of descendants. It speaks of a nature, even the divine nature of Christ in all the children of God (since no one ever lived unto God apart from the indwelling Spirit of Christ (Mk 12:27; 1Pet 1:11).
That seed (nature) could only dwell in the righteous by faith on the legal basis of the perfection of that nature (seed) in the representative humanity of the divine Son. Though they did not know the mystery of how God would accomplish this (it wasn’t time), it was only through the imputation of the blood of the eternally slain Lamb that the pre-incarnate Spirit of Christ could take up lawful and holy residence in the OT believer. Apart from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the Spirit could not lawfully be given.
Whether Old or New Testament believer, it is only by the imputation of this one, perfect, ‘wholly other’ kind of righteousness, that anyone is counted just in the sight of God. It is certainly NOT because of ‘their’ faith, since this too is a gift. It is because of the sovereign drawing power of the Spirit that works a living faith in whosoever is willing to receive Him as their only hope of righteousness (“I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name”).
To have this righteousness imputed is also to receive the quickening of the divine nature, which is the nature of Christ, the Seed. Hence it is that the Seed inherits all things, and we in Him and He in us. That is how the promise can be infallibly sure to all the seed (Ro 4:16) apart from human works of righteousness.
This righteousness may be more fully active in a greater sanctification, but it can never be more perfect and complete in one more than another in the sense of justification and standing. The degree of sanctification is relative; but justification and standing is absolute and never a matter of degree. Therefore, the justifying righteousness of Christ extends equally to all the seed. In this way, “he that is least in the kingdom is greater than John.”
I differ here from many of the commentaries that do not see John as standing already within the sphere of the kingdom. By no means is Jesus speaking here of the millennial kingdom, as in the Scofield notes. There are clear references that show that the kingdom was already present and being entered by many (Mt 11:12; 23:13; Lk 16:16). John was certainly in the kingdom, else how were many entering in by his preaching? No, Jesus is saying something much more profound than comparing some future state with the greatness of John.
Though in a somewhat different way, I believe Jesus is making the same essential point here that He is making when He makes the really shocking statement that “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” For the average Jew, nothing could have sounded more forbidding. For the average Jew, to exceed the piety and discipline of a Pharisee might as well be Mount Everest. In other words, it was a divinely intended recipe for despair. It was another instance of the Lord’s necessary preliminary work of demolition to prepare the way of the Lord (Jer 1:10).
The Lord’s reference to John intends something of the same, as this is either the worst or the best of news. Let me explain. Jesus knew the popular sentiment and estimation of John was very high. John represented the highest example, not only of godliness, but of spiritual anointing. Jesus commends John, but in order to send home His point with fullest force, He goes much further to make the really astonishing statement that “of all who have been born of women, there is none greater than John.” What is He doing here?
I submit that he is using the example of John to show that the highest example of righteousness is not high enough. Jesus points His hearers to both a requirement and a promise that takes them well beyond even the highest estimation of anything that might be associated with even the greatest among God’s servants. This would include Abraham, Moses, Daniel etc. This is simply amazing.
Jesus is saying that the kingdom requires and promises a greatness that is greater than the greatest. But a greatness of what kind? What kind of greatness is this that exceeds John’s greatness by even the least one in the kingdom? I believe it is nothing less or other than the ‘everlasting righteousness’ of covenant promise (Dan 9:24; Jer 32:40). It is an eternal standing in the kingdom that is based on the imputation of the righteousness that was perfected in one place only, the un-fallen humanity of Jesus. This is righteousness of another kind, and that is why it is greatness of another kind. The least one in the kingdom has this righteousness, as no lesser righteousness can be acceptable.
This is glorious news to the destitute; it is disastrous news to those that presume to come into the wedding feast with a mixed garment. In this way, the very least in the kingdom of heaven stands in a righteousness that exceeds anything that can be associated with the strictest Pharisee, or even the most saintly of saints. It is nothing less than the eternal and indestructible righteousness of Christ. When this revelation dawns on the destitute, in one moment of time, the last is made first.
No wonder the catholic theologians of Trent called this a “legal fiction”. It sounds illegal. It is simply too good to believe. But if God can make Him to be sin who knew no sin; is it harder for Him to count me the very righteousness of God in Him? If that is a legal fiction, then it is one that God has purchased at an awful price. God can now be just while justifying the unjust, “calling the things that are not as though they were” (Ro 4:17). With holy blood He purchased this right for Himself. Let none in their ignorance blaspheme the holiness of this just and glorious exchange.
This is not some ‘positional’ make believe. The righteousness of the believer in Christ is as real and actual as the Word that brought the worlds into being. That Word says we ‘ARE’ a new creation, not just on the way to becoming a new creation. Oh for grace to apprehend the power of those words of John: “Beloved, NOW are we the sons of God, and it doesn’t yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jn 3:2). In the words of Fanny J. Crosby, “I scarce can take it in.” Hallelujah! What a Savior!
His choicest blessings overtake you, Reggie