Thursday, March 2, 2017

How The Concept Of Imputed Righteousness Clarifies Justification By Faith

Image result for imputation



In our last post we had considered how Paul uses Abraham to illustrate the doctrine of justification by faith. The reader may had noticed the opening verse of today's post has containing "all-caps". The reason for this is due to Paul quoting from Genesis 15:6. As we noted in the last post, justification by faith alone is not just a New Testament teaching. This truth of God's declaration of the sinner's innocence at saving faith is taught in both Old and New Testaments. In today's post we are going to probe deeper into Romans 4 by noting how justification by faith works through a Biblical teaching called by theologians: "imputation" or "imputed righteousness". This concept will enable us to better understand what justification by faith is all about. 

The connection between Romans 1-3 and Romans 4

When one studies the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, humanity is depicted having three crises that can only be addressed by Justification: 

1. A spiritual crisis. Romans 1:18-2:3
2. A moral crisis.    Romans 2:4-29
3. A relational crisis. Romans 3:1-31 

With respect to mankind's spiritual crisis, the situation is one of being at enmity with God (Romans 1:18-31). The moral crisis involves being dead in sin and incapable of pleasing God by keeping the Law of God (Romans 2:1-29). By the time we arrive at Romans 3, the crisis is compounded by indicating how relationship-wise, fallen man is utterly bankrupt with Holy God and thus a debtor to His Law (Romans 3:1-20). 

In short when you and I are born into this world, we are in the spiritual, moral and relational equivalent of a credit crisis.  Unless our spiritual bank account is radically credited with righteousness, no amount of right living will balance out what is owed to God. Paul's key point in Romans 4 will be to illustrate God's solution to all of this by highlighting justification by faith as illustrated in the life of Abraham. 

Abraham is used to illustrate the kind of righteousness that was credited to Him at the moment of saving faith.  

So what type of moral and spiritual transaction occurs when once is "justified by faith"? Per Paul's argument and the Biblical teaching on justification by faith, God's righteousness, or to be more specific - Christ's righteousness, is transferred into the believing sinner's otherwise spiritually bankrupt moral bank account. This type of transfer is called "imputed righteousness" and lies at the heart of understanding Justification by faith. So we need to ask: what is "imputed" or "imputation" mean and how can it aid in shedding light on justification by faith?

Computers, Disputes, Reputations and Imputation

Perhaps the term "imputed" or "imputation" may be new to you.  Like "imputation", other words in our English language have the same Latin root "putare" (peu-ta-ray) which means "work that is accomplished".  I'm sure you have heard of a "computer".  The word "computer" comes from two Latin words: a prefix "com", meaning "with, together" and its root "putare", meaning "work accomplished".  Thus this blog that I am typing was accomplished by working together with a machine - i.e, a "computer".

Or how about a "reputation"?  A reputation is what others are "repeating" (re) about the work your accomplished (putare).  Everyone desires a good reputation.  

Or perhaps you have gotten into a "dispute"?  That is, you "disagreed" (dis) over what exactly was accomplished (putare). All these words derive from the same root word "putare", and are concerned about the nature of a given accomplished work.

Imputation means you get the credit for work you did not accomplish. So what about the work of salvation?  How is Christ's life, death and resurrection transferred to you at the moment of saving faith?  It is done by "imputation".  That is, the "work accomplished" (putare) is done in your place by another (in) resulting in you getting the credit.  When you go to a store and swipe your credit card, the cash register will display the message: "card accepted", issuing you the credit to purchase your item.  The store "imputes" or "credits" you with the funds to buy the item, even though those funds had been previously secured by the credit card company.

How imputation links together Christ's life and work on the cross to the believing sinner in justification?

In order for sinners to be "credited" with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputation had to be at work at the cross. That is, my sin and life needed "credited" to Christ so that at saving faith, His perfect work and life could be credit to me. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: "He who knew no sin became sin for us".  The believer's sin was "credited" or "imputed" to Jesus Christ on the cross. He who never sinned was treated by, "credited" by God as if He had done our sin.  On the cross, Christ the "New Adam" (Romans 5:14) was treated like the "original Adam" who had sinned in Genesis 3.  Why?  The second part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains: "so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him". 

So at the cross, my sin was "imputed to Christ", because God had made a decision to set His affection on me to rescue me, convict me of my sin, and position me to trust in Christ's life and saving work.  The moment I did that, all of Christ's identity and work was "imputed" or "credited" to me.  I call this God's Heavenly Credit Card of Justification.  Unlike the credit cards we use, there is no bill that comes in the mail at the end of the month.  God did this on the basis of His grace and love. Truly we can praise God for imputing our sins on Christ, because only then could His sinless life and accomplished work be imputed to us in justification!


  1. Is imputed righteousness all that is needed to inherit heaven? How will God know I have received it?

  2. Imputed righteousness - i.e. "the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ" - is received up saving faith. The sinner is awakened to the reality of their sinful condition and the awesomeness of Jesus Christ in what the Bible calls "the new birth" (see John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23) or "regeneration" (Titus 3:5). The new birth includes the graces of faith and repentance, bestowed by God as free gifts to the sinner (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Timothy 2:24-25). In turn, the sinner receives and exercises saving faith in Jesus (Acts 10:43). It is at this moment of saving faith that the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or credited to the sinner (Galatians 3:26). God knows this moment because He appointed the Holy Spirit to go and call that sinner to exercise faith and repentance in Jesus (John 16:8-12). The relationship between God's grace, faith, and imputation of Christ's righteousness (justification) is spelled out in Romans 3:24-26 "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." I hope that answers your question. Thanks for reading the post!