Confronting Calvinistic Trends
Entering The Lord's Church
CALVINISM'S THREEFOLD IMPUTATION
Tom M. Roberts
The theological system known as Calvinism originated in the voluminous works of John Calvin entitled “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” This man popularized concepts expounded earlier by Martin Luther and others dating back to Augustine (354-430 A.D.). In order to reduce these massive works to proportions that the average student can understand, Calvinism has been summarized into five major points that are usually represented by the acronym “TULIP.” Each of these letters represents one of the five major points taught by John Calvin in his explanation of man’s fall and his redemption. They are: Total hereditary depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. The reduction of these concepts into the simplified five points has encouraged many to study this basis of the Protestant Reformation who would not otherwise have been able to do so. Current events within the church of Christ, as well as a revival of Calvinism among Protestant churches, has caused a further study of another of Calvin’s concepts: the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the believer. Without a doubt, Calvin’s idea about imputation is the glue that holds the five points together which were mentioned earlier. Since he denied the ability of man to do anything good due to his inherited depravity, Calvin was convinced that in some manner the personal righteousness of Christ, His moral excellence (in today’s vernacular, the “doing and dying of Jesus”) was transferred to the sinner so that, as man was lost due to Adam’s sin, he was saved due to Christ’s perfection. In this view, Adam’s sin was a corporate sin (involving the whole race and not just himself) while Christ’s perfection was corporate perfection (involving all believers, not just Himself). As Adam was the fountainhead of sin for lost mankind, Jesus was the fountainhead of righteousness for all believers. And, Calvin taught, since the guilt of Adam became our guilt (by inheritance through the flesh), the righteousness of Christ became our righteousness through a process known as imputation. To be sure, the Bible speaks of imputation and the scheme of redemption includes this as an integral part of our salvation. But there is a vast difference between the scriptural doctrine of imputation and Calvin’s doctrine. We need to be able to grasp the difference between what Calvin taught and what the Bible teaches. To do this, Calvin’s concept of imputation has been summarized in to three main points even as his “Institutes” have been summarized into five points. The three-fold imputations of John Calvin are: 1. the imputation of the sins of Adam to mankind, 2. the imputation of the sins of mankind to Christ, and 3. the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to believers. Some preachers among churches of Christ have been guilty of teaching the third of these three points as though it is Bible doctrine. Either they fail to realize the implications of what they are accepting and teaching or they are just unwilling to be consistent and accept the entire trilogy. But to be consistent, all three of these points must stand or fall together. It makes absolutely no sense to teach that the personal righteousness of Christ is imputed to us unless we believe that Adam’s sins are imputed to mankind. If I do not have Adam’s guilt, I have no corporate guilt for Christ to bear, there is no corporate righteousness for Him to return to the believer. To understand these matters, let’s study each of the three imputations.
Imputation Number One
The Imputation of the Sins of Adam to Mankind
The original fallacy in this system of theology is that the sin-guilt of one can be imputed to another. Augustine, Luther and Calvin all failed at this crucial point of their study. It is useless to speculate what direction their later views might have taken had they not been mistaken here, but it is safe to say that once they accepted this hypothesis, the rest of the system follows quite logically. In fact, the whole system is designed to explain their view of redemption based on the assumption of “original sin” and “inherited total depravity.” Remove this error and the rest of “TULIP” become superfluous. Briefly, imputation number one teaches that Adam’s sin is “imputed” or “transferred” to all posterity by natural generation (by fleshly birth). Let us note here at the beginning that “imputation” never means “transfer” in the Bible but is so used by Calvinists. The Bible teaches that God does impute sin (Romans 4:8), but He never transfers sin from one person to another — sin is imputed to (put down to the account of) the one who commits it. It is absolutely essential that this is understood by one and all. God puts sin to my account when I sin, but He never puts someone else’s sin to my account — Adam’s or anyone else’s. If I repeat myself on this point, I do so with the intention of stressing its importance. In Galatians 6:5 Paul says that “each man shall bear his own burden.” Ezekiel 18:4,20 states: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Underline the statement about the“righteousness of the righteous” and we will return to that later. For now, let us emphasize the part about “wickedness.” From this passage (and others), it is quite evident that sin is not and cannot be inherited from a previous generation nor passed from one person to another. Being ignorant of this truth, Calvinism teaches total hereditary depravity by imputation of sin: the guilt of Adam’s transgression is imputed (transferred) to us. There are two points that need to be understood clearly right here. First, we need to see that when God imputes sin, He imputes sin to the sinner who commits it and no one else. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” That I have sinned is undeniable. That sin has been put to my account is a fact. God saw my sins (not Adam’s; not my father’s; not somone else’s) and imputed them (put them to my account) because the guilt was mine. Nothing has been transferred but something (sin) has been imputed. It is in this manner that my guilt is established. Secondly, we need to pin down that “imputation” never means “transfer.” If we permit an arbitrary definition of terms anything can be proven. Allow Calvinists to define “impute” as “transfer” and they will sutain their position. However, this is not an accurate definition in any of the three points under consideration. Albert Barnes, who wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, was a Calvinist. However, his scholarship was such that when he came to the doctrine of imputation he defined it correctly. In his exegetical analysis of Romans he struck down the definition of transferring guilt or innocence from one to another. In his notes on Romans 4 (page 102), he states, “The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him … No doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word.” Now it is of the utmost importance to this study that every student of the Bible get what he said. Imputation never means transfer. It simply means putting down to one’s account what is properly his — whether sin or holiness! (Let none imply from this that we are saying that holiness is intrinsic to man. We will discuss this point later). Some brethren are trying to make impute mean one thing when talking about Adamic sin and something else when it refers to Christ’s personal righteousness and man’s salvation. However, there is only one accurate meaning for imputation and we have presented what it is and what it is not in its use in the scriptures. It is interesting to note that some brethren of late have tried to make Barnes teach imputation to mean “transfer” when they quote from him. But by so using Barnes, they reveal the slip-shod method of their study and actually end up agreeing with those Calvinists who understand the importance of their definition and who take issue with Barnes. You see, after Barnes died, his commentaries were republished. However, the publisher disagreed wtih Barnes’ definition of imputation and inserted editorial comments to that effect. The small print inserted beneath Barnes’ original notes are those of a Calvinist editor who takes issue with Barnes and who seeks to establish a more orthodox Calvinist position. When our brethren quote from Barnes to the effect that imputation means transfer (and some have done this), they are in reality quoting from main-line Calvinists. In the Publishers’ Preface to the volume on Romans, we find this statement: “The principal point, in which Barnes is supposed to differ from orthodox divines, in this country, is the doctrine of imputation; which occupies so conspicuous a place in the opening chapters of the Romans, and is argued at great length in the fifth chapter. In some points also, of less moment, he may be accused of using inaccurate or unguarded language. To rememdy these defects, supplementary Notes have been addded in several places throughout the volume…” (emph. mine, TR). For this reason, when brethren refer to Barnes to prove their use of imputation to mean transfer, they are using men who regarded him “defective” as a Calvinist on this point or who felt him to be guilty of using “inaccurate or unguarded language.” Barnes did not believe in this use of the word and went to great lengths to prove the proper definition. His list of scriptures where this word is used (also on page 102) is valuable to those who would like to do more research in your personal study. We conclude our consideration of this first point by saying that Adam’s sins were imputed to no one but himself (to whom they properly belonged). Our sins are imputed to us (to whom they properly belong). Imputation number one is simply denominational error.
Imputation Number Two
The Imputation of the Sins of Mankind to Christ
Fallacy number two in Calvinism’s triad of error is that the sins of mankind are imputed to Christ. And it is quite amazing to see brethren quote scripture on one hand and then shift gears in their definitions of terms to read “transfer” instead of “impute”. Many who would not accept Imputation Number One seek to change definitions and accept Imputation Number Two. They teach that in order for man to be free from the guilt of sin, sin must be transferred to Christ. Thus, one will hear them speaking of passages that refer to Christ taking upon himself our sins, bearing our offenses, our iniquity being laid upon Him (Isaiah 53, etc.) as teaching imputation even though the word itself is not used. Once a faulty definition is substituted for imputation, it is but a small step to accept words similar in meaning to “transfer” to mean the same as imputation itself. Improper word usage is a favorite dodge of false teachers and it is essential in this instance for all to realize that such is being done. But the Bible simply does not teach that the sins of mankind are transferred to Christ in any sense. All the Bible passages that refer to Christ taking upon Himself our sins, bearing our offenses, our iniquity being laid upon Him, etc., (Isaiah 53, et al) are simply teaching that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The “stroke was due us” (Isaiah 53:8); He died for “our transgression,” was “bruised for our iniquities.” But Note: the sins had been imputed to us — put to our account. That is why the “stroke was due us.” Jesus took our punishment upon Himself but He did not take our guilt upon Himself. To say otherwise is to deny that passage in Ezekiel 18:20. When Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf,” he was showing that Jesus took the penalty and punishment for sin (death) that we might live. If sins were imputed to Christ, they properly belonged to Him and He would have been actually a sinner. He was sinless therefore no sins could be properly imputed to Him. But through love, He took our punishment for sins that were properly charged to us. Let us not destroy the beauty of the vicarious suffering of Jesus by teaching that He actually had sin imputed to Him.
Imputation Number Three
The Imputation of the
Personal Righteousness of Christ
Like our studies on the two previous points, it will be shown that the basic mistake that is continually made on imputation is to define it as “transfer” instead of “put to one’s account.” With regard to the righteousness of Christ, much ado is made about Christ’s moral excellence. To be sure, all agree that Christ was sinless, that He exemplified perfect obedience to God and that He was absolutely and infinitely pure. Had this not been true, the sacrifice he made on Calvary would have had no more effect on paying the penalty for sin than the deaths of the other two who were crucified at the same time. The difference between the two thieves (and all other men) and Christ was the difference between His innocence and our gilt. Since He was sinless, His death paid the penalty for sin in our stead — in the words of the scripture: “But now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifest to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself … so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many…”(Hebrews 9:26,28; cf. Hebrews 10:11-12ff). He was the anti-type of all the Old Testament sacrifices and it was to Him that they all pointed. His perfect life qualified Him for that sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-28).This clearly establishes that the perfect life and death of Christ paid the penalty for sin — yet nothing in all the Bible indicates that the moral excellence of Christ (his perfect doing and dying) is put to our account (imputed to us) or that we wear a robe of Christ’s righteousness which covers our sins. Through the death on the cross, Christ propitiated the wrath of God (Romans 3:24-26) and made reconciliation possible (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). When we penitently believe on Jesus Christ, becoming obedient to His will, God forgives us those sins which have been put to our account. It is in this manner that God imputes righteousness to me. Since our sins are forgiven, they can no longer be imputed (“…blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin”, Romans 4:8). God thereby restores me to that condition of righteousness which I occupied before I sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and pronounces me righteous on the basis of forgiveness. Thus, righteousness is not intrinsic to man, but supplied by God on the ground of pardon. Righteousness is not given to the sinner on the basis of Christ’s own personal righteousness being transferred . Remember our use previously of Ezekiel 18:20: Neither sin nor righteousness can be transferred. Our third imputation of Calvinism is seen to be error like the other two. None of them will stand the light of investigation.
IMPUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Tom M. Roberts
“Imputation” describes a process that takes place in the mind of God, without which none of us could ever be judged sinner or saint. What may be known about this process must be known only by revelation through the scriptures, since God speaks through the Spirit to reveal His thoughts (1 Cor. 2:6-13). Difficulty in understanding our subject lies not in its obscurity or ambiguity; rather, generations of faulty exposition by sectarians and brethren alike have hidden its wonderful message. It will be our goal to learn proper definitions, relate this subject to other salvation terminology in a harmonious way, properly applying the truth to our situation.
It is true that our study of imputation is not “milk” but “meat” (Heb. 5:12-13). One cannot fully understand imputation without being cognizant of the entire scope of human redemption. Thus, imputation is related to the revelation of the divine wisdom of God, human nature (free will and responsibility), the nature of sin and of righteousness, justification, gospel and law, faith and works, the plan of salvation and, not in the least to be considered, grace. It encompasses the concept of how a righteous God can bring about the salvation of His sinful creature, man, and yet retain His own righteous nature (Rom. 3:21-26).
Generations of theologians have sought to understand man’s history, from his fall to his redemption. Many have attempted to put this research into a systematic relationship, resulting in volumes under the general heading of “Systematic Theology.” Perhaps the first, certainly one of the most influential, of such theologians to address this question was Augustine (354-430 A.D.). Drawing upon a faulty concept of the nature of man (that man inherited a sinfully depraved nature by natural generation), Augustine set in motion theological concepts that influenced and influences man throughout history until today. Not only Roman Catholicism, but the entire Protestant Reformation took direction from his ideas, however defective they were and are. For us to understand imputation in its Biblical purity and simplicity, we must not allow our thinking to be persuaded by the common fallacies of Augustinianism (later, know more popularly as Calvinism). The confusion that has arisen among our brethren on this subject has been due to the direct influence of Calvinistic definitions and ideas which are to be found in nearly all the commentaries and religious source material. We must not permit ourselves to be influenced beyond what the bible teaches. The blessing to be received by understanding imputation is great, resulting in an assurance that God’s saving grace is commensurate with man’s ability to receive it. Man is neither hereditarily morally depraved nor does he live sinlessly perfect; God is willing to extend His grace and man is able to receive it.
To understand our term properly, we must have a working and accurate definition. This is crucial since most Calvinists seek to redefine it more in line with their theology than their scholarship. But the lexicographers state that it means “…1. to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; hence, a. to take into account of; metaph. To pass to one’s account, to impute…to lay to one’s charge. B. to number among, reckon with… c. to reckon or account, and treat accordingly.(Thayer). Also, “to reckon, take into account, or metaphorically, to put down to a person’s account.” (Vine). It is from the Greek “logizomai” and includes “an activity of the reason which, starting from ascertainable facts, draws a conclusion…”(J. Eicheler, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, p. 822-826). Without limiting this definition to either sin or righteousness, its basic meaning provided the basis for God “taking into account,” or judging. God’s judgments, by His own imputations, determine whether one is considered a sinner or saint. One is not saved or lost, therefore, due to one’s own emotional, subjective testimony but according to God’s judgment which is imputed, or put to one’s account.
Application of Definition to Sin
Let’s illustrate this definition with regard to sin, first. Imputing one to be a sinner involves the process in the mind of God whereby He considers a person’s actions, weighs them, makes a judgment, and puts that judgement to the person’s account; it is imputed. Please note that in the light of the scripture, sin is imputed to the account of the transgressor; it is never transferred to or from another person or is never inherited. This is true of both sin and righteousness (Ezek. 18:1-20; 1 Jn. 3:4). Though a Calvinist, the commentator Albert Barnes saw the truth on this point and stated in his work on Romans: “The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, pp. 102-103). Also, “no doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word” (ibid).Since the Bible is its own best expositor, it is possible to learn the meaning of some disputed passages by letting scripture speak to scripture. One of the proof texts of the Calvinists regarding the imputation of the sins of Adam to Christ is Isaiah 53:4-6 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Jn. 3:5). The key passages affirm that Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions,”“bruised for our iniquities,” and “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As Peter affirmed, “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”Does this mean that God, in some fashion, transferred our sins to Jesus? In what way did the Lord “lay on him the iniquity of us all?” How did Jesus “bare our sins in his body?”
It is easy to take the Calvinist’s “transfer” in these instances, unsupported by any lexicon or dictionary, and make a case, arbitrarily. However, since no authority recognizes “transfer” to be an accurate definition, it is folly to permit it. Further, since one scripture will often explain these questions, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede. This is exactly the case as Matthew records Jesus’ ministry and work. In Matthew 8:14-17, Jesus is said to heal Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, cast out demons, heal all that were sick “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” Now, when Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, did Jesus become feverish, transferring the fever to Himself? When He cast out demons, did He transfer the evil spirits to Himself? In what way did Jesus “take our infirmities and bare our sicknesses?” We are told that He “cast out” the spirits and “healed” the sick. Metaphorically, it can be said that He “took” and “bare” these things by “casting them out” and “healing them.” In the same manner, when Jesus “bare our sins,” He forgave them, not transferred them. Hebrews 9:26b sheds light by stating, “…but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself…So Christ was offered to bear the sins of man…” As the writer of the Hebrew letter quotes our passage from Isaiah 53 where Jesus was to “bear the sins of many,” he explains by inspiration that it means to “put away” or forgive sin. So also does every other passage (where remission, forgiveness, covering, blotting out, etc. is mentioned) agree. Jesus never transferred sins from anyone to Himself. He “bore them” in the sense that He cause them to be forgiven by dying in our stead, being “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” Yes, Jesus took our punishment for us, was treated as a sinner would be treated and died on the cross as a substitute offering for sin. But the effect was to forgive sin, not transfer it. Any other position ignores divine testimony.
Calvinism In Capsule
To illustrate the flaw of Calvinistic thinking, let us compare their use of impute to the Bible usage. In capsule form, they would have “impute” to mean “transfer” in the following sequence:
1. Adam’s sins imputed (transferred) to mankind
2. Mankind’s sin imputed (transferred) to Christ
3. Christ’s personal righteousness imputed (transferred) to believers.
The difference is distinctive and immediately apparent. They attempt to transfer the guilt of Adam to mankind to support the doctrine of total hereditary depravity. We have seen the flaw in this (Ezek. 18). Next, they attempt to transfer sins to Christ to escape guilt. But the scriptural action here is forgiveness, as we noted in Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8, not transference (which incidentally, would not solve sin by shifting it elsewhere). Finally, they attempt to transfer righteousness from Christ to the believer, covering the sinner with a layer (covering, robe) of moral perfection, under which the depraved nature yet remains. This moral perfection of Jesus (called by some His “doing and dying”) supposedly provides the basis for the believer being saved and staying saved (salvation by faith alone, and once saved, always saved). Please note, however, that nowhere in the Calvinistic system is provision made for forgiveness of sins. Sin is moved about, shuffled around or said to be covered, but it is never cured. The Bible cures the sin problem by forgiveness through the blood of Christ.
Summarizing, we have been noting, to this point, that one becomes a sinner due to God’s imputation (considering actions, weighing, judging, and putting to one’s account his guilt). But our study would not be complete without a consideration of the Christian who sins. Some claim that God imputes sin to the alien; but not the Christian. But we need to observe that God always charges transgressors with their sins, whether sinner or saint. Sin is not more palatable to God simply because the one committing it is a child of God. The Christian, therefore, may so sin as to be finally lost in Hell (Gal. 5:1-4; 1 Cor. 10:11-12; etc.). Cleansing Christians of sin is not automatic or continual, but conditional, as with aliens. Rather than to imagine some situation whereby guilt is not imputed (sins of ignorance, secret sins, doctrinal sins, etc.) We need to affirm what the Bible clearly teaches: all sin is imputed, charged, reckoned to the transgressor, whether sinner or saint. By God’s grace, provision is made for forgiveness in both instances, but let us not seek to avoid the truth on either.
Application of Definition to Righteousness
Please note that our definition does not change as we now consider righteousness: it continues to be a divine process whereby God weighs our actions, judges us and puts to our account that which He judges. However, imputation for righteousness is not a wage (merit) as is sin (Rom. 6:23), but is according to grace. If we put to our account what we deserve, all would be lost. This is not to say that salvation is not conditional, for it is. God does not impute righteousness to men unconditionally, else all would be saved. Righteousness is imputed according to the conditions of grace, or as Paul stated it in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith…” Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part. Grace provides, faith responds. Conditions of a gift do not pay for a gift, any more than faith pays for grace. As Jesus taught, “When ye have done all the things commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17:10). Now, having established that imputation for righteousness is conditional upon faith, let us illustrate it.
Abraham: God’s Example
When God gave up the world to a reprobate mind (Romans 1), He also instituted the plan of redemption by calling Abraham (long before the law was given) and promised salvation through the Seed (Christ), to those who believe. The faith of Abraham is used by God to illustrate how He will save all of us. “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then, they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:7-9). In Genesis 15:6, it is stated: “And Abraham believed God, and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” This passage is quoted three times in the New Testament as writers use Abraham as an example of imputed righteousness. It is found in Romans 4:1-25, Galatians 3:6-9 and James 2:21-23. This helps in our understanding of “faith,” “righteousness,” and “impute.” Faith never means “faith only” in an approved sense, but includes the“works of Abraham” (Jn. 8:39), or “faithfulness,” the proving of faith by works (James 2:18, 21-23). “Righteousness” simply means to stand in a “right relationship” with God. On at least three separate occasions in Abraham’s life, God weighed the circumstances, judged Abraham’s actions and pronounced him righteous. The test in Genesis 15:6 refers to the time of Abraham’s life when he was given the promise of a child in his old age. It is also used of the time when he left to follow where God would lead him, and of the time when he was commanded to offer Isaac on the altar. As God saw Abraham’s faith in action, He weighed the circumstances, considered, drew a conclusion about Abraham as He saw his faith, forgave his sins (Heb. 9:15) and imputed (put to his account) righteousness. Thus, salvation by “grace through faith,” foreshadowing our salvation of the same order. The basis of salvation: Christ (the Seed). The condition of salvation: faith. The method of salvation: imputation. The result of salvation: righteousness. The scope of salvation: to Jew and Gentile (all nations: Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 3:7-9).
Whose Faith Is Imputed?
The text is clear that it is faith that is reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). Typical Calvinists seek to escape the force of the fact that God accepted Abraham’s faith (since they believe that man is born totally depraved and unable to “do” anything to be saved). As a consequence, they teach that it is the “faith of Christ” that is imputed to the believer (a gift from God), not the believer’s own subjective faith, as with Abraham. But from Genesis 15:6 through all of the contexts where this passage is quoted in the New Testament, Abraham’s faith, not that of Christ’s, is under consideration. True, Abraham’s faith encompassed the Seed promise; he believed in the coming of the Messiah. But it was Abraham’s faith (subjective) that was imputed, not the object of his faith. Faith is an act one does, it is not a gift. “So then faith cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is a work of God that man must do. “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Jn. 6:29). Abraham believed on Christ, God saw his faith coupled with his obedience and, forgiving his sins, imputed or counted Abraham’s faith unto him for righteousness.This is clearly taught in Romans 4:1-12, where Abraham is used to explain salvation. The Jews sought salvation based upon a claim to proper lineage (sons of Abraham) and works (perfectly doing the law of Moses). To correct this thinking, Paul noted that Abraham was saved before there was either lineage or law. The righteousness that is imputed is not of works (perfectly “doing”all the law, Gal. 3:10) or of debt (Rom. 4:3-4). It is, however, of faith (trusting obedience, Rom. 4:56). David verifies this when he is introduced to tell us of a “blessed man” to whom God will not impute sin. Is he a man so perfect that he has no sins with which to be charged? No (Rom. 3:23). Is he a man who sins but whose sins God arbitrarily chooses to overlook? No (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Rom. 6:23). Is he a man with impeccable ties to Jewish lineage? No (Rom. 4:13). If none of these, who is this man? Clearly, the context of Romans 4 shows that the man to whom God will not impute sins is the forgiven man! The Psalmist is quoted as saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin” (vs. 7, 8; cf. Ps. 32:1). God does not impute sin where there are no sins to impute! But no sins exist only when a man is forgiven. Thus, it is the forgiven man to whom the Lord will not impute sins. Upon what basis is sin forgiven? Upon obedient faith in Christ (Rom. 1:5; 16:25), just like Abraham had faith in God and His promises and obeyed. When a sinner comes to God in faith, meetings the conditions of grace (faith, repentance and baptism), God cleanses the sinner through the blood (Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:1-7; Acts 2:38, etc.). In faithful obedience there is no merit; God is not put in debt. Faithful obedience is but the condition; the basis of salvation remains the blood of Christ. “For we say, to Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:9). And as for us today, “For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…” (Rom. 4:16). God imputed Abraham’s faith for righteousness; our faith will be imputed for righteousness.
Christ’s Perfect Life Imputed?
Having adopted the foundational fallacy that all men are born totally depraved, the consistent Calvinist is faced with the dilemma of accounting salvation to one so distant from God that he cannot read and understand the Bible or make a moral decision to change his life.Consequently, these theologians deny man the ability to come to God, making salvation “wholly of God” without any conditions on the part of those to be saved. How is this to be accomplished? Again, they turn to a faulty definition of “impute”(having it to mean “transfer”) and combine it with yet another error, transferring the perfect life of Christ to the one being saved. In this imaginative view, the moral perfection of Jesus (called by some the “deeds and doing” of Jesus or the “robe of Christ’s perfection”), is said to be imputed (transferred) to the believer in such a manner that God no longer sees the depravity of the individual, this being hidden under Christ’s righteousness. God only sees this “robe of Christ’s perfection” and imputes this to the account of the believer. “From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is the equivalent of saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation – something worth carefully noting…For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that in some wonderful manner, he pours into us enough of his power to meet the judgment of God…To declare that by him alone we are counted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?” (“Brief History of Calvin’s Theory,” 1536 (first edition, 1559 final edition, Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book, III, Chap. XI, Section, 23). Not only have those outside the church such unscriptural concepts, but some brethren have propagated this error. “Thus every man who will be saved shall not be saved as Joe Doaks, but as Jesus Christ” (Burton Coffman, Commentary on Romans). To which R. L. Whiteside replied:
“It has been erroneously assumed and falsely argued that to impute a thing to a person is to put to his account something that he does not have, or somewhat more than he has. The Presbyterian and Baptist Confessions of Faith, and a host of theologians of both schools, teach that the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to the sinner…The doctrine is wholly without scriptural support…When by the power of the gospel a man has been made clean and free from sin, God reckons righteousness to him, because he is righteous. God does not pretend that a man is righteous when he is not. The denominational doctrine of imputed righteousness reminds one of the children’s game of ‘play-like.’ And their doctrine discredits the gospel as God’s saving power, and belittles the merits and efficacy of the blood of Christ, for it teaches that some corruption remains in the regenerate, but he is counted righteous because he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. That is ‘play-like’ theology. “But the gospel makes men righteous, just as a soiled garment may be made clean, as clean as if it had never been soiled, by carrying it through the process of cleansing. So the gospel takes the sin-defiled persons through a process of cleansing that makes him as clean as if he had never sinned. The Lord does not ‘play-like’ he is righteous; he makes him righteous by the gospel” (R. L. Whiteside, Commentary on Romans).
This speculation about the perfect life of Christ being transferred to the account of the believer provides the basis for twin doctrines that have led millions astray; namely, “justification by faith alone,” and “once saved, always saved.” “If a man is saved by the perfect life of Christ,” it is reasoned, “the perfect life of Christ will also keep him saved.” The basic fallacy in this concept continues to be the idea that sin or righteousness can be transferred from one to another. It is not a scriptural position; in fact, it violates many Bible principles.
What, then? Does the perfect life of Christ have nothing to do with our salvation? Indeed it does. The perfect life of Christ (His “deeds and doings”) provide the basis for His spotless sacrifice for sin. Though sinless when born into the world, Jesus was “perfected” through His sufferings and temptations so as to offer to God a tried and tested offering for sin. He went to the cross as the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), tempted and tried yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). It was God’s merciful love that arranged “to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Jesus was “made perfect” (mature, having reached a desired goal or end) by the “things which he suffered” becoming obedient unto death (Heb; 5:7-9). As a priest, Jesus prepared an offering (Heb. 8:3), His own body (Heb. 9:26), doing the will of God (Heb. 10:1-10). Thus, the perfect life of Christ provided what we could not, a sacrifice without spot or blemish. It stands as the perfect anti-type to all the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament types, made possible by the sinless “deeds and doing” of Jesus. Yes, the perfect life of Christ was essential to our salvation. Not, however, that His moral perfection could be “transferred” to our account or that he could live a life of legal and moral perfection in our place and for us. He was both priest and sacrifice, the One doing the offering as well as the Offering itself. By this one act, He shed the innocent blood needed for atonement for sin. It is through the blood that atonement is realized and by which reconciliation is offered. Surely no more basic foundational principle exists in the word of God than that the blood of Christ provides the basis for salvation. If we are saved by the perfect life of Christ, transferred by some mystical manner to believers, why did Jesus have to die? If His perfection becomes ours, the death on the cross is needless cruelty, a sadistic hoax. Like all false doctrines, it cannot be harmonized with the full gospel story. It must be rejected as both fanciful and erroneous while we continue to proclaim the true doctrine of imputed righteousness.
Admittedly, not a great deal of preaching has been done regarding imputation. Why? May I remind you that imputation is a divine process administered by God. Since He “doeth all things well,” He does not need exhortation from us in order to accomplish His will. He has been imputing sin and righteousness since Adam and Eve and will continue to do so until time is no more. However, our preaching, of necessity, must exhort men to the “obedience of faith” meeting the conditions of grace. We have the assurance that when men “obey from the heart that form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17), God will impute righteousness in harmony with the divine will. When men transgress His will, He imputes their sin.It is only when imputation is ill-defined and explained out of harmony with the will of God that we must deal with it more specifically. Now is one of these times and it has become controversial due to the gross misunderstanding among brethren and religionists alike. We should beware of becoming too excited about the error or too complacent about the truth. Rather, we should proceed calmly and prayerfully about our task of preaching the “whole counsel of God” to lost humanity. What God imputes will never contradict what the gospel promises so we should remain undeterred in our labor, being assured that “our labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). God has done and continues to do His part; it remains for us to be faithful in ours. This is accomplished as we preach the gospel, as in the past. Though charged erroneously that we do not preach about the grace of God or that we do not preach imputation, let gospel preaching be our answer to all such charges. This is the “true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12), and it is marvelous in our eyes.
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