What life, peace and joy the truth of Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ alone brings to the hearts of the people of God. This past year as I have preached through the book of Galatians and given talks on Luther it has been refreshing to work through in detail again the doctrine of non-imputation.
Of course it helps, when teaching these things, to provide some memorable illustrations. Book keeping and clothes change are regularly put forward, but perhaps I've neglected using the New Testament's own book of illustrations - the histories of the Old Testament - to depict in life-size portraits 'Justification by Faith.'
One such classical case, which can help even little ones grasp the point, is the case of David's excusing Shimei, son of Gera. This 'Benjaminite baddie', after King David had crossed the Kidron, ascended beyond the summit of Olivet, and made it the length of Bahurim, pilloried the LORD's anointed and pelted him with stones (see 2 Samuel 16:5-7). Shimei had wrongly imagined that the exile of the king marked good riddance for God's Christ!
Oops! That's what Shimei must have thought when, in the aftermath of Absalom's demise, the nation summoned His Majesty, the son of Jesse, back. He now, surely, had an awful, sinking, feeling, in the pit of his guts, of his own impending doom. We take up the account in 2 Samuel 19:21, where in response to a request for a royal pardon from David, Abishai, son of Zeruiah, calls for the rebel Shimei's head:
"Should, on account of this very thing, Shimei not be killed?" (my translation).
We can see the point of Abishai - as he fills out his reason - for had not Shimei 'cursed the Messiah of Yahweh'? What was it, then, exactly that this trembling ex-Saul-supporter sought. Verse 19 specifies his aim: it was non-accountability for his sin that Shimei angled at:
"And he said to the king, 'Let my lord not impute to me guilt and may you not remember the iniquity, which your servant committed on the day when my lord the king when forth from Jerusalem, in order for the king to set it to his heart,'" (my translation).
The penitent rebel then continued to make his case, with a swift, clear, full confession for the folly and evil of his act:
"For your servant is intimately acquainted with the fact that I, even I, have sinned," (my translation).
What was David's response to this humble, trembling, plea for non-imputation of his guilt and pardon of his sin (you may remember on the day of his exile, against the advice of Abishai, David had spared Shimei on the grounds that the LORD might have been behind Shimei's impulse to curse - recorded in 2 Samuel 16:10)? The grace-filled, merciful, reaction of David on that former occasion was similar to his present answer, as 2 Samuel 19:24 explains:
"And the king said to Shimei 'You shall not die' - then the king swore an oath to him," (my translation).
What a clear, striking, depiction of the doctrine of non-imputation by which a penitent, guilty, rebel, sinner, recognizing what he justly deserves, comes to God's king, confessing his offense, pleading that the liability for his iniquity not be credited to him. The verdict given is gratuitous justification.
David kept his oath, yet as it finally turned out, in 2 Kings 2:8-10, the guilt of Shimei, though temporarily pardoned, was finally rewarded when his true motives were revealed and impenitence was proved. It was left to Solomon, on advice of David's sneaking suspicion, to bring the silver locks of Shimei down to Sheol with his blood. Wisely the king devised a means to ascertain the reality or not of the superficially loyal Benjaminite's heart, 2 Kings 3:36-46. The verdict of non-imputation of guilt was ultimately reversed.
That's why the illustration of non-imputation, as example of justifying grace, ultimately falls short in the Old Testament Christ. It is left to the King of kings, and Lord of Lord, the Son of David, Jesus Christ Himself, through His perfect mediation, to grant forgiveness from the Father that He purchased at the Cross. The non-imputation of our own sin, and that of Adam, can never be reversed for true believers in the Gospel! This, for us, should be an endless source of praise for the free justification of God.
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