Imputation

I just finished reading a book written by Dr. Stephan J. Nichols entitled, “A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society.” The basic premise of the book is that in our contemporary culture that’s quickly abandoning its Christian past, followers of Christ need not be discouraged or frightened because our almighty God is the source and anchor of our confidence. The cover notes say, “Though the whole world may shake around us, His kingdom is unshakable. This is not a time to cower, cave, or capitulate. It’s a time for confidence, and our confidence must be in God. All else will disappoint.” (I highly recommend this book. It’s only about 150 pages long, and Nichols has an interesting writing style.)

Nichols sees similarities between the dark age just prior to the Reformation and our current cultural epoch. Therefore, in chapter five, he references Martin Luther’s revolutionary doctrine of “justification by faith alone” (sola fide) and asserts that the doctrine hinges on one word. Actually, he goes so far as to say that the entire Reformation could be summed up with this one word: “imputation.”

Please don’t be insulted here if I take a second to make sure everyone has a working definition of “imputed.”

Imputed righteousness is a concept in Christian theology proposing that the "righteousness of Christ ... is imputed to [believers] — that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith." Thus, this doctrine is practically synonymous with justification by faith.

What Luther was actually declaring should be labeled “double imputation. Here’s what he said about what happens when a sinner is saved through faith in God’s redeeming grace.

In his own words:

"Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange by which Christ, who is wholly innocent and holy, not only takes upon Himself another's sin, that is, my sin and guilt, but also clothes and adorns me, who am nothing but sin, with His own innocence and purity?...Through this blessed exchange, in which Christ changes places with us (something the heart can grasp only in faith), and through nothing else, are we freed from sin and death and given his righteousness and life as our own." (Luther's Works, Vol 51, Sermons)

Isn’t that an awesome thought? So often we think about Jesus death and resurrection as only paying the price for our sins. Wiping our “sin-slate” clean. But if Christ’s death only accomplished the forgiveness of our sins, we’d be right back where we were in the garden—momentarily without sin, but still vulnerable to Satan’s temptation.

It took both the “active and passive obedience of Christ” to make us righteous and worthy of eternity in His presence. “Active obedience” refers to Christ’s life of sinless perfection. Everything He did was perfect. “Passive obedience” refers to Christ’s submission to the crucifixion. He went willingly to the cross and allowed Himself to be crucified without resisting. His passive obedience pays our sin debt before God, but it’s His active obedience that gives us the perfection God requires.

Through our faith in Christ, our sin is imputed to Jesus. That’s how Christ paid our sin debt to God. He had no sin in Himself, but our sin was imputed to Him, so when, on the cross, He paid the price for our sins, those sins became His because they’d been imputed from us to him.

Likewise, the moment that we’re saved, Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us. When we place our faith in Christ, God imputes Jesus’ perfect righteousness to us so that we become perfect in His sight.

We need both aspects of this imputation—the redemption from our sins, and the perfect righteousness of Christ before we’re ready to dwell eternally in the presence of a righteous “Holy” God. Thank you, Lord for “the blessed exchange” of imputation.

Written by Jim De Horn