I have recently come across, via social media, some professing Christians who believe that the doctrine of imputation is unbiblical. Having never before encountered such bold assertions, I was both alarmed and curious as to what exactly they believed.
How were they then saved? What did Christ accomplish then on the cross?
If Christ's righteousness is not attributed to us, how then can our sins be attributed to Him in His vicarious office of Substitute and sacrificial Lamb?
The answers I received to these questions were wholly unsatisfactory, having not been given Scripture sufficient for convincing me of this aberrant teaching. In doing the research I have found one Professor Vincent Taylor, who likewise believed and taught this doctrine (profile):
““Imputation...can never be anything else than an ethical fiction....righteousness cannot be transferred from the account of one person to another. Righteousness can no more be imputed to a sinner than bravery to a coward or wisdom to a fool. If through faith a man is accounted righteous, it must be because, in a reputable sense of the term, he is righteous, and not because another is righteous in his stead” (Forgiveness and Reconciliation , p. 57).
“With such denial of a cardinal teaching one is not surprised to read the following definition of justification later in the discussion: “It is the divine activity in which God gives effect to His redeeming work in Christ by making possible that righteous mind necessary to communion with Himself” (Ibid., p. 66). Taylor here denies clear Biblical teaching and endangers the Christian doctrine of salvation.”
More recently, one can find contemporary teaching from such men like Mike Desario (Check out his book here).
It wasn't until some time shortly into my research that I found out that both Taylor and DeSario (and the people I encountered on Facebook) are staunch defenders of what is known as Pelagianism:
“Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).”
Rather than launch a full-on assault on this false doctrine, I would rather focus on the issue of the doctrine of imputation, and what the Scriptures themselves have to say on this matter. By doing so, this should undercut the foundation of Pelagianism (at least in my mind, and for those whose sole authority are the Scriptures themselves) and any other system that denies such, at the same time.
What does imputation actually mean?
“Imputation is used to designate any action or word or thing as reckoned to a person. Thus in doctrinal language (1) the sin of Adam is imputed to all his descendants, i.e., it is reckoned as theirs, and they are dealt with therefore as guilty; (2) the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them that believe in him, or so attributed to them as to be considered their own; and (3) our sins are imputed to Christ, i.e., he assumed our "law-place," undertook to answer the demands of justice for our sins. In all these cases the nature of imputation is the same (ROM 5:12-19; Compare: PHILEMON 1:18-19).”
From the following source, we have materials available by ZONDERVAN's PICTORIAL ENCYCLOPEDIA: BIBLICAL TRAINING web site.
“After the mention of Abraham as an illustration of salvation by pure grace, the apostle refers to David who pronounced a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.”
“The Psalm from which these lines are taken (PSALM 32:1), like the writings of Paul, emphasizes man’s hopelessness apart from God and the sovereignty of grace. In utter weakness the psalmist confesses his transgressions. He knows that only God can forgive sin. The man who is forgiven is not regarded as wicked, for the Lord does not impute to him his iniquity, but he is reckoned as a child of God. His sin is covered; he is counted righteous.
“In order to emphasize the relevance to his readers of this teaching about the gracious imputation of righteousness to Abraham, the apostle included all those of later generations who come to God as Abraham came and have faith reckoned to them. “The words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe...” (ROM 4:23, 11).
“That this reckoning, or imputation, of righteousness to the believer lies at the heart of the Biblical doctrine of salvation is corroborated by other Scripture. The Apostle Paul uses the phrase “righteousness of God” nine times (ROM 1:17;3:5,21;10:3; 2 COR 5:21), and in most of these instances it is mentioned in order to teach that God grants the sinner a new legal standing; i.e., he is counted righteous even while a sinner.
“A righteousness of God “apart from the law” has been manifested, says Paul, although both law and prophets bear witness to it. It is a righteousness of God “effective through faith in Christ for all who have such faith” (ROM 3:22). This righteousness is seen in Christ who brought redemption. In Him God proves that He is righteous when He justifies the sinful believer (ROM 3:24). Law is not overthrown but upheld in this redemption of lost man (ROM 3:31).
“Later in the same epistle the author affirms that the great error of his own nation was its ignorance of the righteousness of God and its attempt to establish its own righteousness. “They did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified” (ROM 10:3).
Note here that without imputation, there is no justification; justification can only be applied to the saint who by faith receives salvation and acquires justification by means of Christ's own righteousness imputed to us. Justification and imputation work hand in hand.
“Men are not righteous in themselves: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ROM 3:23). They need God’s righteousness which has been made manifest in Christ. Above all else Paul wants to be found in Christ. Concerning this and its relation to righteousness, he writes: “Not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (PHIL 3:9).
“This righteousness is imputed, or reckoned, to him so that, while, strictly speaking, it is not his own, yet God reckons it to him so that he is simul justus ac peccator: at the same time righteous and a sinner, to use Luther’s phrase.
“A second sense in which the word imputation has been used in Christian doctrine is the reckoning of man’s sin to Jesus Christ. God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 COR 5:21). In this classic text the apostle brings together the two truths of the doctrine of salvation: the burden of man’s sin became Christ’s burden, and the righteousness of God, or of Christ, became ours.
“The meaning obviously is not that Christ actually became a sinner, for all of the Gospel contradicts that position. It is rather that by virtue of His identification with the human race sin is reckoned to Him. Although it is not explicitly said in Scripture that sin is reckoned, or imputed, to Christ, the meaning is clear. It is said that He “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 PET 2:24), that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (ISAIAH 53:6; ACTS 8:35), that He was made to “bear” the iniquities of his people (ISAIAH 53:11; HEB 9:28).
“Each of these passages of Scripture, the one from Hebrews esp., has in mind the OT institution of sacrifice in which guilt was symbolically and ceremoniously transferred to an animal with the laying on of hands on the head of the victim. Applied to Christ, to whom the sacrifices of the OT pointed, the teaching is that “he bore the punishment of our sin vicariously, its guilt having been imputed to Him. The thought of the prophecy is, as Delitzsch says, that of vicarious punishment, which implies the idea of the imputation of the guilt of our sins to Christ” (ISBE, III , p. 1464).
“The same teaching is set forth graphically by Paul in GAL 3:13, where Christ is said to have “become a curse for us.” The meaning is that He bore the penalty for human sin, that, as Luther declared, God dealt with Him as though He were the greatest of sinners. Sin was imputed, was reckoned, to Him so that man might be forgiven. Imputation is thus bound together with the teaching of vicarious salvation.
“Besides the two above doctrines of imputation, a third is the imputation of Adam’s sin to the human race, based on the narrative of the Fall (GEN 3; ROM 5:12-21; 1 COR 15:21). According to one interpretation of this Scripture, Adam’s sin was imputed to his posterity by virtue of his having been the federal representative of the human race. Among those who hold this view, there is a difference as to whether that sin was imputed “immediately” or “mediately.”
"According to another interpretation of the Fall, Adam’s sin was not merely imputed to his descendants but, inasmuch as they were generically “in” him, his sin is truly theirs. This latter “realistic” theory of the imputation of Adam’s sin was held by W. G. T. Shedd and A. H. Strong, whereas the theory of “immediate” imputation was held by C. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, while “mediate” imputation was taught by Placeus.”
We can do very little to supplement what has already been given in the above treatment of this biblical subject, but I would like to dwell for a moment on ROMANS 4 and reiterate what as said already and what the apostle states in this epistle. This chapter, as many of you know, is dear to my heart personally as it was the portion of Scripture that the LORD used that lead to my salvation experience, receiving Jesus Christ as my LORD and Savior.
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
If we could indeed present ourselves as “basically good, and moral people” without the taint of Adam's sin upon us, and by virtue of this fact perform worthy and good works presentable to the Almighty and Holy God, then we would have something to boast (“glory” in KJV) about. Yet as the apostle points out here – not before God we don't! And why is this? Simply because every tree produces after it's own kind. A good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree likewise (MATT 7:17) and since Scripture testifies that:
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Anything that we might produce would likewise be unprofitable and the product of sin. We are summarily hopeless in and of ourselves, in a condition Scripture everywhere explains as sinful.
In such places, particularly the Old Testament, where saints declare their own righteousness, it might be surmised that they are addressing the LORD on behalf of their own merit. Such places as found in JOB and the PSALMS:
PSALMS 7:8; PSALMS 18:20,24 and previously in 1 SAM 22:21,25. Many attribute to Job that he declared his own innocence (“perfect”) in JOB 9:20-22 and he refers to “my righteousness” in JOB 2:3 (here God declares Job as “upright”); JOB 27:6; and JOB 33:9.
Yet both David as well as Job have said,
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah (See also PSALM 51).
And Job as well as David acknowledged God as their own redeemer (thus admitting his need for redemption from sin and death in Job's case):
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
We also read in PSALM 35:24
Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.
As well as:
Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, readily acknowledged GOD as “The LORD our Righteousness” in JER. 23:6; 33:16; 51:10.
Likewise just as Scriptures declares our hopeless state, they also provide for us a sure and steadfast hope of salvation, via the vicarious and atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the spotless and sinless (1 COR. 5:20-21; 1 PET 1:18-19) LAMB of GOD: Note especially verses 15-19.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
In these three verses above the word “counted” is used, and is the Greek word logizomai, and it occurs a total of eleven times in this chapter alone! It is translated in English as “count”, “reckon” and “impute” in ROM 4:3-6,8-11,22-24. The word logizomai means:
“(the root of the English terms "logic, logical") – properly, compute, "take into account"; reckon (come to a "bottom-line"), i.e. reason to a logical conclusion (decision). From logos (in the sense of an account or reckoning).
(rationes conferre) to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; hence,
a. to take into account, to make account of: ROM 4:3,(4); metaphorically, to pass to one's account, to impute (A. V. reckon), 1 COR 13:5; 2 TIM 4:16 A. V. lay to one's charge); ROM 4:6,8
"a thing is reckoned as or to be something, i. e. as availing for or equivalent to something, as having the like force and weight" ROM 2:26; 9:8; ACTS 19:27; ISAIAH 40:17; ROM 4:3, 5,9-11,22, 24; GAL 3:6; JAMES 2:23; GEN 15:6; PSALM 105:31. To view the more complete notes, as well as view the various renderings of this word, visit the web site here..
This concept is readily demonstrated in:
2 COR 5:20-21
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Observe the exchange being made here: Christ Who is is sinless – and the only One that Scripture testifies fluently as having the sole claim of that spiritual purity – is “made sin for us” that is, our sin is reckoned to His account (Again, as stated in the above article from ZONDERVAN's, see ISAIAH 53:6); while His absolute and pure righteousness – that is wholly approved by God the Father as the propitiation for our sins (ROM 3:25; 1 JOHN 2:2;4:10) has been granted to us.
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
This is a righteousness not of human construct, but of God through faith in Christ.
17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
This is not a righteousness that is earned, but granted as a gift, just as is faith and grace by one Man, Christ Jesus (just as sin and death were 'granted' by one man, Adam).
1 COR 1:30
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
God Himself has made His only begotten Son to be wisdom for us, as well as righteousness and sanctification and redemption – His provision is all inclusive and wholly by grace (EPH. 2:8-9).
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
Righteousness is not a manufacture of effort and moral engineering, but grown in us, producing fruit by the Holy Spirit.
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
I will not place my hope and faith in anything else, but in the blood of the LAMB and His righteousness – this is the only and exclusive means for salvation.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
It is the LORD that has clothed me, and not I myself, with the robe of righteousness and with garments of salvation – all of this at the expense of the Heavenly LORD Who has bidden me to His wedding feast, and only those so donned with Divine righteousness and salvation may enter there – those not so clothed will be cast out and never permitted entrance (MATT. 22:11-13).
I am ever and humbly grateful to the LORD, that at the expense of His own blood, having made His soul an offering for my sins and taking upon His righteous soul the just punishment that should have been mine so that I will not be judged by the Holy Law of God on that Day of Judgment, but enter into the grace of our LORD, and partake of such heavenly love, joy and peace as words could never describe.
Such is the blessing for all of God's children, purchased on His blood, born and sealed of His Spirit, and awaiting the redemption of our bodies when our LORD Jesus Christ takes us from this cursed world of sin and step into eternity: and so shall we ever be with the LORD!