Contend Earnestly: Imputation: When does it occur?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Imputation: When does it occur?

I had a “conversation” today about when Christ’s righteousness was imputed to His elect. The one I was speaking to said that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us happened at the cross. Just so that there is no confusion in this matter, let’s define imputation:

The act of God declaring that our sins belong to Christ (another word is “reckon”) and Christ’s righteousness belonging to us. Although in this instance neither is deserving of the other, it is made so by God’s declaration.

The most famous verse that states this truth is 2 Corinthians 5:21

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So that, as our sins were imputed to Christ, God imputed Christ's righteousness to us. This fact is traditional in orthodoxy but much disputed as when this actually takes place. There is another instance of where we find something being imputed to another in the Bible and it comes when speaking of Adam’s sin being imputed to the entire human race:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
Romans 5:12

So, when does this happen? When does Christ’s righteousness get imputed, or reckoned to us? It happens at the time of our faith. It is in essence the entire reasoning and understanding of the great reformation dogma, Sola Fide. The first we see of this happens in the Old Testament when speaking of Abram:

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Notice when righteousness was reckoned, or imputed, or judged to be in force: it happened at faith. In belief of God.

Paul’s whole disputation on the gift of faith and reckoning comes in Galatians 3 and is proved in respect of this by proving it through the Old Testament man, Abraham:

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Galatians 3:2-6

And another point to the time of faith being when we are reckoned, or imputed Christ’s righteousness:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
Romans 3:21-22

This is also why we can say that you are saved by grace THROUGH faith. So we are saved by the blood of Christ, and his righteousness is then imputed to the elect, when they have been regenerated, given faith, and then believe.

The question might be asked, “Why can’t Christ’s righteousness just be given by God to the elect at the cross?” Besides the many Scriptures spoken of the imputation happening at faith, the other reason happens when we see such Scriptures that say that we were once “children of wrath (Eph 2:3)” “hated by God (Psalm 5:5)” “sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2)” and “sons of the devil (John 8:44).” If this is the case, how can we be deemed righteous and still have God’s wrath against us? This cannot be. Therefore there is a time where Christ died, and the elect CAN still be seen as under HIS wrath. So what happens to change our position before God? Faith.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Romans 5:1

If Christ’s righteousness was imputed at his death to his people, the elect could have never been under the wrath of God. But, Paul makes this clear as he says in Ephesians 2:3 that WE were by nature children of wrath. Paul includes himself so to say that there was a time that we were without Christ’s righteousness even though Christ had already died.

In my view this is an “already not yet” scenario. Christ’s death has conquered death already, but not yet imputed to us who will, 100% believe.

The verse from the one that I was conversing to kept pointing to Romans 5:10 where it says:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Romans 5:10

What needs to be understood is to be seen before this, which happens to be the thesis of this passage, and then also a verse later down that gives us this reality. We already saw the thesis, which is, Romans 5:1

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Paul then goes through what we have this faith in, and that is in the death of Christ for us. It is to remove our sins from Adam to our own personal sin, to impute those sins to Christ, and then for Christ to eventually impute to us His righteousness which is shown to happen in the future through verse 19:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:19

Notice that it says that the many WILL BE made righteous. This in effect is speaking of something that has not happened yet, even though the death of Christ our mediator has already taken place. This, in essence, is the defintion of an "already, not yet" scenario.

So, what we see from this extremely short post on the subject is the fact that faith plays an intricate part to understanding imputation. If we have been imputed Christ’s righteousness literally at the cross then there is no chance that we can ever be under the wrath of God, which Ephesians 2 speaks directly against. If you would like more info on the understanding of the faith that is only given by God look to the posts on Sola Fide here, here and here.


Josh said...

I agree with you there Seth. If we are counted as righteous by the event of Christ's death alone, then at a minimum the elect are born righteous.

For the stictly limited expiation guys, no one in their right mind says we are born righteous without faith.

By simply broadening that thinking, there is no reason to avoid the idea that Christ died for all yet not all are saved.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...


A day or two ago I would have disagreed with you. However, I have recently been discussing this very topic with a friend of mine in New Zealand, which is documented on his blog and mine, and I came to the same conclusion you have, though via a different (more philosophical, less scriptural) route. It is very encouraging to see you clearly documenting the scriptural evidence so shortly after I became convinced of this view!

In Christ,

Seth McBee said...

thanks for the comments guys...

dominic...interesting that your view has changed must have a good, patient friend


The one thing I failed to mention but was inferred by me linking to my sola fide posts is the fact that by us not being imputed righteousness until we believe is in no way a "work." But the inferrance is that it is NOT a work because the very faith that we possess is not our own but given by the Father through the regeneration by the Spirit.

This would be different than the thoughts of the Arminian view of faith by the individual.

The only reason I say this is because the person I was talking to kept insisting that I was adding a work to the process.

But if we think about it...aren't we really saved by works? The answer is yes: the works of Christ, not us...and that is why the doctrine of Sola Fide works, Sola Gratia though Sola Fide because of Solus Christus, for Soli Deo Gloria!

Praise be to God and His works, not our own.

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