One of the most transforming forces in our lives is being regarded as better than we are.
There is something profound and paradoxical about the way God creates godly people by first justifying the ungodly (Romans 4:5).
Consider the order of God’s acts in transforming the exiles of Judah. First he says, “I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans” (Jeremiah 24:5). They are not good. But he will count them as good. This is the justification of the ungodly.
Then—and the order here is all important—he says, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). They did not have a heart to know God when he “regarded them as good.” But now he will give them a new heart. That is the order. First justification of the ungodly. Then transformation of the heart.
Now the question is: Can we do something similar? Can we, by God’s grace, love someone into loveability? Chesterton said, “Unlovely things must be deeply loved before they become loveable.”
I don’t claim to be good at this. I just believe there is a wonderful and mysterious power in bending the vertical doctrine of justification out horizontally and “regarding as good” the people we want to see become good.
This applies most clearly to imperfect believers. If God has regarded them as good in Christ, then surely we should regard them that way. It should make a real difference in how we see them and treat them.
But even toward unbelievers one wonders if there is not an application of this dynamic, even though they don’t yet have faith. What does Paul mean when he says, “Love hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:5)? Is there a kind of “imputation” that we render to someone in the “hope” that he will become what we hope he will?