July 10, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

A Brief Defense of The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness


I am going to comment on this article by a Catholic apologist that was referred to me by an Eastern Orthodox. It is on the issue of how to understand Rom. 4:4-8.


What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

This is his contention:

When Paul says “just as David speaks of counting righteousness,” this means David is speaking of the same crediting of righteousness that Paul just talked about. But David doesn’t use the phrase “counting righteousness” in Psalm 32:1-2, and instead he speaks of “lawless deeds forgiven” and “not counting sin”. This means that for Paul, “counting righteousness” is synonymous with “lawless deeds forgiven,” which is also synonymous with “not counting sin”. Simply put, when a persons sins are forgiven, God does not regard that person as a sinner any longer, and in fact God regards them as righteous. Using the analogy of a shirt with a stain on it, after I clean the stain I could either “not reckon a stain on the shirt” or, equivalently, I could “reckon cleanliness to the shirt,” and I’d be saying the same thing. The only difference is perspective, similar to asking if the glass is reckoned as half full or is reckoned as half empty.

This obviously doesn’t seem to contradict what Protestants have argued for in regards to justification being forensic. The man is righteous because he believes and not because of his deeds. This understanding contradicts the non-Protestant interpretation that maintains that justification is about being changed morally(infused) and not about being forensically acquitted. This once again shows that Rome and the Orthodox have misinterpreted and even ignored the true meaning of Justification in Paul. God justifies man(unilaterally) and not some system of merits for future justification.

It isn’t as if forgiveness and righteousness are identical. That is a false conclusion from the idea that he is trying to derive. The point that Paul is making is that works do not acquire forgiveness and righteousness. In that way, they are parallel to one another. That wouldn’t make you righteous, but merely innocent. There is both a negative and positive aspect of Righteousness. The first being the forgiveness given to believers by the cross. The other would be viewed as fulfilling the demands of God.

Here is a point that we all agree that is about the forgiveness of sins, but we differ on the notion of righteousness. This is where he attempts to turn it on the Christian:

Once you recognize that “counting righteousness” is synonymous with “not counting sin” (meaning forgiveness), you can now proceed to hammer the Calvinist on the issue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Since the two phrases are equivalent, then it’s impossible that “crediting righteousness” refers to “imputing Christ’s righteousness,” because you’d then have to read “not crediting sin” as referring to “imputing Christ’s righteousness” as well, which makes little grammatical sense. How does transferring Christ’s righteousness to your account come out of the phrase “not count sin”? It doesn’t.

The problem is that Protestants of most persuasions have gathered around the idea that Paul is referring to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The issue that arises to me is that of a false dichotomy. He makes it that the text states that this Righteousness is merely the idea that God won’t impute sin, but why should we grant this assumption?

Secondly, one could conclude this text doesn’t teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and other passages do. So, it hardly a defeater for the doctrine of Sola Fide, nor the idea of double imputation. In the grand scheme of things, it is too weak to prove anything and it still is a defeater for believing in the Catholic and Orthodox views of justification.

Thirdly, it has been the case that some protestants have rejected the imputation of Christ. John Wesley accepted Sola Fide and rejected double imputation. This just goes to show that this isn’t a defeater for Protestantism, Calvinism, etc.

I suppose the challenge will be where does the NT teach that righteousness is understood in that positive sense I stated above. I would point out that this idea is fundamental to the entire Bible.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

This teaches that sin is the transgression of the Law or “lawlessness”. So, obviously, righteousness would be the opposite of that. This is a similar thought in other passages about those trying to acquire righteousness from the Law:

Rom. 2:13

13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 

The obvious implication is that the person that comprehensively does the Law will be righteous. That possessing the Law means nothing if you are not doing the Law becomes the following polemic against the Jews. Another passage in this vein of thought is Gal. 3:21-22

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe

The point was the Law was never met to be perfectly fulfilled nor could it be because we are sinful. This should not merely be understood that they tried to merely become innocent but actually tried to earn right moral standing with God based on Law-keeping. This same thought Paul stated in Rom. 9:30-33, 10:4-6. These ideas will culminate in Rom. 8 explaining that Christ fulfills the Law in our place. The problem one would have is that it is only cogently for you if it is imputed to you! If not, then Christ only satisfied the demands of the Law for himself. That could hardly be the thought behind these words:

 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This starts to tie in the support we see for this notion we have been imputed with the righteousness of Christ. We can note both the Old and New Testament reasons for such a conclusion.

1. The Old Testament

The evidence from the OT comes from the symbolic nature of atonements that pointed to Christ. While they emphasize the idea that God forgives our inquiries, they also affirm a rudimentary understanding of double imputation. The idea in Passover is the Jews are passed over because the blood applied to their doorways. That is symbolic God’s wrath passes over them, and they remain in good standing with God. The other example in Lev. 16 on the day of atonement. The priest places his hand on the sacrifice symbolizing their sins, transferring to the sacrifice, and the blamelessness transferring to the people. That later points to the righteousness of Christ transferring to his people. This is the idea of the author of the epistle written to the Hebrews in 10:10-14 he has “perfected” those for whom his atonement was made for.

Furthermore, it is quite clear that the OT was a religion in which God was viewed as the cosmic judge and the Jewish people had his Law:


The forensic language is built-in to the OT. This shows that Protestantism matches with OT Judaism more than the alternative theories. So, when challenged about Church history of anyone that had the same views, the protestant can appeal to the saints of the OT and the alternatives can not(even if they still hold to inerrancy).

2. The New Testament

We have various passages that teach imputed righteousness. The most notable is 2 Cor. 5:21 and Rom. 5:12-19.

20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

We have in the result of Christ’s death being that we have an alien righteousness. This obviously isn’t our own righteousness because we don’t have any, but rather it must be from the Messiah we have righteousness. He is the only man to ever fulfill the Law.

Hence also it is proved, that it is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment….This is most clearly declared by the Apostle, when he says, that he who knew no sin was made an expiatory victim for sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). You see that our righteousness is not in ourselves, but in Christ; that the only way in which we become possessed of it is by being made partakers with Christ, since with him we possess all riches….’As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,’ (Rom. 5:19). To declare that we are deemed righteous, solely because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us as if it were our own, is just to place our righteousness in the obedience of Christ. Wherefore, Ambrose appears to me to have most elegantly adverted to the blessing of Jacob as an illustration of this righteousness, when he says that as he who did not merit the birthright in himself personated his brother, put on his garments which gave forth a most pleasant odour, and thus introduced himself to his father that he might receive a blessing to his own advantage, though under the person of another [Genesis 27:1-29], so we conceal ourselves under the precious purity of Christ, our first-born brother, that we may obtain an attestation of righteousness from the presence of God.” (John Calvin, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, 3:11:23)

The other examples are based around certain imagery. In Revelation 7:9-17 you get this passage about a great multitude from every tribe, nation, and people that are wearing white robes. This doesn’t seem to state much but it does fit with this idea that they have a righteousness not their own. As Dr. Vern Poythress concludes:

The white robes of purity and honor belong to the multitude not because of achievements through their own power, but through the power of Christ’s redemption. In a startling juxtaposition, his blood washes them white (cf. Zech. 13:1Isa. 4:4Heb. 9:141 John 1:7).


The other passage I would take as evidence of this theological notion is found in Eph. 1:3-11

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

It seems to be that it is through Christ’s atonement we are to be made Holy and Blameless before God. The teaching that because of Christ we are righteous is also found in other passages as well.

Rom. 1:17

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Phil. 3:8-9

More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith

The idea is that the righteous man will live because he trusts in God’s promises. That righteousness is different from the wrath being revealed by God. That righteousness from God comes not through Law but by faith. These are just a shortlist of reasons to think that we are imputed with Christ’s righteousness. (HT. Chris Matthew)

Suggested Reading:

Does 1Corinthians 1:30 Imply Imputed Righteousness?

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