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Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine of Imputation

Practicing Righteousness

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
– 1 John 2:29 (NASB)

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
– 1 John 3:7 (NASB)

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
– 1 John 3:10 (NASB)

I do believe in the doctrine of imputation.  I have read the works of some who disagree.  They hold that the Bible never says anywhere that we are “imputed with Christ’s righteousness.”  They hold that the Bible declares us to be righteous by virtue of being in Christ by faith but they hold that the Bible never says that the righteousness of Christ is ever imputed to us.  Even the passages that are appealed to for the doctrine of imputation such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 or Philippians 3:9 do not say that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.

However, to me this is simply semantics.  While the Bible never uses the phrase “imputed with Christ’s righteousness,” the doctrine is based on not just the New Testament but the Old Testament as well.  For example, in the famous story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt in Exodus 12, the blood of the Passover lamb would serve as a substitute for God’s judgment against the Egyptians.  The Israelites were protected by the blood.  The blood served as a sin offering substitute by which the Israelites’ sins were imputed to the lamb and the lamb bore them on their behalf.  This looked forward to God’s perfect sacrifice of His own Lamb (John 1:29).  The Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world and would bear the sins of the people of God.  God’s Lamb would be our perfect sacrifice to take away our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:22-24).  Jesus’ blood now cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7) and His blood is our defense before a holy God.

Hebrews 9:11-22 reads:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Jesus then is our substitute before God.  He bore our sins on the cross.  His blood alone is able to cleanse us from sin (Romans 5:9).  Jesus’ blood not only cleanses us from all sin but He is our mediator before God (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Jesus Christ is our salvation.  He is our everything before God.  We have nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).  He is our salvation, our redemption, our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30).  Our boasting must be in Him alone (1 Corinthians 1:31)!  In Jesus we have “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were imputed with the sins of the Israelites, so the New Testament saint had their sins imputed upon Christ our Lord and He bore our sins.  Thus all He accomplished for our forgiveness is now imputed toward us.

This, however, should not ignore the passages that speak of practicing righteousness.  To merely claim Christ’s righteousness apart from pursuing holiness is not biblical.  Full salvation looks to Christ alone for salvation but we also look to Christ alone to sanctify us.  We are holy in Christ but are also being made holy.  Hebrews 10:14 reads:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

We look to Christ Jesus to help us not just to be forgiven of our sins but to be made holy before Him.  Jesus came to bear our sins and to give us complete victory over our sins (Matthew 1:21).  We don’t have to be slaves to sin (John 8:34-36).  Those who are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:1-4) are no longer slaves to sin but are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:5-23).  Through the Lord Jesus we are able to live a holy life (1 John 2:1-2).  We don’t have to live a life of defeat in sin.  We can be set free by His grace from sin and its domain (Titus 2:12-14).  Our hearts are cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9) and the Lord wants to continue that deep work of cleansing in us (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

My earnest prayer has been for the Lord to give disciples full victory that we have in Christ.  We don’t have to be slaves to sin.  We can be slaves of righteousness.  If we are not slaves of righteousness, John the Apostle says that we are not righteous at all.  The doctrine of Christ’s imputation should never be used as a basis for sinning.  If that is the heart of the person living in sin, they know nothing of the grace of God.  While I acknowledge that true saints of God can (and will) sin, this is not the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 John 2:1).  May our hearts be to live a life of holiness, pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 1:9-10).

Declared Righteousness or Imputed Righteousness

On both sides of the Arminian and Calvinist debate is the understanding that Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to the undeserving sinner who believes in Christ alone for salvation.  Arminius wrote,

Hence we likewise deduce: That if the righteousness by which we are justified before God, the Judge, can be called formal, or that by which we are formally justified, (for the latter is Bellarmine’s phraseology,) then the formal righteousness, and that by which we are formally justified, can on no account be called “inherent;” but that, according to the phrase of the Apostle, it may in an accommodated sense be denominated “imputed,” as either being that which is righteousness in God’s gracious account, since it does not merit this name according to the rigor of justice or of the law, or as being the righteousness of another, that is, of Christ, which is made ours by God’s gracious imputation. Nor is there any reason why they should be so abhorrent from the use of this word, “imputed,” since the apostle employs the same word eleven times in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, where the seat of this point or argument lies, and since the efficacy to salvation of God’s gracious estimation is the same, as that of His severe and rigid estimation would be if man had perfectly fulfilled the law without any transgression. (2 Cor. v, 19, 21.)

Arminius further wrote,

Whether it is to be understood “that the righteousness, for which, or unto which, faith is imputed, is the instrumental operation of faith;” which is asserted by some persons. In the theses on justification, which were disputed under me when I was moderator, I have adopted the former of these opinions not in a rigid manner, but simply, as I have likewise done in another passage which I wrote in a particular letter. It is on this ground that I am accounted to hold and to teach unsound opinions concerning the justification of man before God. But how unfounded such a supposition is, will be very evident at a proper season, and in a mutual conference. For the present, I will only briefly say, “I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.” Whatever interpretation may be put upon these expressions, none of our Divines blames Calvin or considers him to be heterodox on this point; yet my opinion is not so widely different from his as to prevent me from employing the signature of my own hand in subscribing to those things which he has delivered on this subject, in the third book of his Institutes; this I am prepared to do at any time, and to give them my full approval. Most noble and potent Lords, these are the principal articles, respecting which I have judged it necessary to declare my opinion before this august meeting, in obedience to your commands.

You can see that even in the writings of Arminius is an acknowledgment that imputation of righteousness is not set in stone.  I believe that Arminius held to imputed righteousness based on his writings but I acknowledge that some Arminians have rejected the teaching.  They do so not out ignorance of the Word of God but rather because they see the teaching as leading to antinomianism.  I can see their danger.

The arguments against the doctrine of imputation are based on two main arguments.  First, the argument from a logical viewpoint that the teaching leads to spiritual apathy.  The logic here is that if we teach people that God no longer sees their sins because of the doctrine of imputation then why obey Christ as Lord?  Why avoid sin if in fact God no longer sees our sins?  What is the point of 1 John 1:9 if in fact we have the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us?

The second argument is that the Bible never says we are imputed with Christ’s perfect righteousness.  The Bible says that we are righteous and they point to this as “declared righteousness.”  For example they point to Romans 3:22 as proof.  Romans 3:22 reads, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.”  The righteousness of God through faith.  They see this as declared righteousness and not Christ’ righteousness imputed to us.

Two other passages are 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9.  Philippians 3:9 is the strongest text on imputed righteousness.  The text reads, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  They again point out that Paul does not say that we have Christ’s righteousness but rather that through faith God declares us righteous.

My view is that we have both in Christ.  We are both declared righteous before God because of Christ and we also are imputed with the righteousness of Christ.  All of the focus in salvation is upon Christ.  I have nothing in my hands to bring to God for salvation nor after salvation.  I need Christ from beginning to end for my salvation.  Jesus is the very One that I look to save me and to keep me saved (1 Peter 1:5).  Before God I have no righteousness.  I need Christ and His intercession (Hebrews 7:25) for salvation.  I need Him standing before the Father and pleading for me.  I need His Spirit to help me to turn from sin (Galatians 5:16-17).  I need Jesus!

Does this matter?  Does it matter if we teach imputation or declared righteous?  I believe it does.  If we teach only declared righteous, I fear that our focus becomes us.  We are righteous because we believed but we also need righteousness when we fail.  I do fail.  I do sin.  I hate my sins but I do fall short of the glory of God though the Bible calls me to forsake sin (1 John 2:1).  When I fail, do I lose my declared righteousness?  Thus I need the righteousness of Christ.  Again, I have no righteousness apart from Him.  Romans 3:10-18 is clear that I am not even close to being righteous.  I need the righteousness of the only perfect one to ever live.  Paul even makes it clear in Philippians 3:7 that all of his own righteousness (which was pretty good if the test is man) was worthless apart from Christ.  Paul was willing to throw out his own self-righteousness for the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:8-11).

I praise God for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, that I am saved through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that my salvation is apart from my own good works (Titus 3:5-7).  God is gracious in His salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.

Jesus is My Righteousness

I once heard a testimony of a brother saved out of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What drew him to faith in Christ was when he was reading Philippians 3:9 and the thought struck him about how much he was doing to try to earn or be righteous before Jehovah. He noted that Paul said that his righteousness came not from himself but from Christ.  This brother said he knew in his heart that he was not deriving his righteousness from his faith in Christ but from his good works for the Watchtower or in his terms, “Jehovah’s organization.”  This led him to begin to question his beliefs and led him to abandon his self-righteousness for the righteousness that comes through faith.

How easy it is to fall prey to this thinking, that we earn God’s favor by being righteous in of ourselves.  We labor in prayer or labor in Bible study or labor in meetings with the saints or labor in evangelism hoping, at least in our minds, that God is pleased with our behavior.  Yet the Bible makes it clear that salvation is accomplished through Christ Jesus and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Our righteousness is but filthy rags before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).  The wonderful truth of the gospel is that Jesus saves sinners (Matthew 1:21) and that He makes us righteous before God by His own blood.  Our righteousness is thus not our righteousness but comes through faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus is my righteousness!  Jesus is my salvation!  Jesus is my faithful high priest who intercedes for me before the Father (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2).

My labor then flows not from seeking to earn God’s favor or His salvation.  My labors flow from the Spirit of God (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14).  I am zealous to honor the Lord because He has saved me by His own power (John 1:12-13).  I am not saved because I have joined the right group or because I was baptized in this church.  I am saved because of Christ and Christ alone.  Cultists hate this doctrine.  They despise the idea that God alone saves sinners.  Man-centered theology focuses on what man does and what we do to either earn God’s righteousness or keep His righteousness.  Not so with biblical theology.  Our salvation comes through Christ and through Christ alone (John 14:6).

Arminius wrote about this salvation accomplished in Christ:

Justification is a just and gracious act of God as a judge, by which, from the throne of his grace and mercy, he absolves from his sins, man, a sinner, but who is a believer, on account of Christ, and the obedience and righteousness of Christ, and considers him righteous, to the salvation of the justified person, and to the glory of divine righteousness and grace.

Notice what Arminius states: that justification is the just and gracious act of God given to us through Christ and is accomplished only by Christ.  Perfect righteousness is not obtained by works or obedience to laws.  Perfect righteousness comes through the work of Christ alone.

Arminius goes on to write:

The form is the gracious reckoning of God, by which he imputes to us the righteousness of Christ, and imputes faith to us for righteousness; that is, he remits our sins to us who are believers, on account of Christ apprehended by faith, and accounts us righteous in him. This estimation or reckoning, has, joined with it, adoption into sons, and the conferring of a right to the inheritance of life eternal.

Again notice that all of this is accomplished by Christ.  Christ is our focus.  Christ is our salvation.  Christ is our righteousness.  Even in the end of our lives, Christ is our everything.  Arminius wrote about this as well writing:

But we have yet to consider justification, both about the beginning of conversion, when all preceding sins are for, given, and through the whole life, because God has promised remission of sins to believers, those who have entered into covenant with him, as often as they repent and flee by true faith to Christ their propitiator and expiator. But the end and completion of justification will be at the close of life, when God will grant to those who end their days in the faith of Christ, to find his mercy, absolving them from all the sins which had been perpetrated through the whole of their lives. The declaration and manifestation of justification will be in the future general judgment.

Make sure today that Christ is your salvation.  Never trust in your works or your goodness or your self-rigtheousness to earn God’s salvation.  Salvation comes only through faith in Christ.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/28/2012 at 10:00 AM

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