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Imputed Righteousness

The Foundation of Justification

It would seem that the trend of the church has deteriorated from a fine restaurant into a fast food eatery. Oh, the building itself may be elaborate from the outside, but the dining on the inside leaves much to be desired. Can you imagine sitting in communion at the table of feasting with the Lord Jesus -- "I'm starved! Give me a double cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake. Make it simple and make it fast!" Oh no! I'd never do that! But our attitude toward learning and understanding the scriptures seems to reflect that very thing. The Word of God is not a cheeseburger and french fries sort of book. May we not dishonor the Master Chef, who has gone to great lengths to prepare a meal fit for a king! (or a sinner.)

Fast food may fill you up, but it's not so satisfying (and it won't stay with you.)

Above all else the study and meditation of the scripture should be deemed a glorious privilege. If it be regarded only as a responsibility, a necessary labor, one is likely to become delinquent in his study. It should be a time of joyfulness. Did not the Psalmist delight in its (His) precepts? And why? Because it revealed to him the Person of Christ. May our response be even as the Emmaus disciples: "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" Luke 24:32.

While many are familiar with the term "imputed righteousness," there are those who are doubtless unaware of it, or are vaguely so. We therefore begin this article with definition in order to acquaint us with it.

Imputation. A forensic term that denotes the reckoning or placing to a person's account the merit or guilt that belongs to him on the basis of his personal performance or that of his federal head. While impute is used in scripture to express the idea of receiving the just reward of our deeds (Lev. 7:18; 17:4, 2 Sam. 19:19), imputation as a theological term normally carries one of two meanings:

Imputation of Adam's Sin. First it describes the transmission of the guilt of Adam's first sin to his descendants. It is imputed, or reckoned to them; that is, it is laid to their account. Paul's statement is unambiguous: "By one man's disobedience many were made [constituted] sinners" Rom. 5:19.

Imputation of our Sin to Christ and of His Righteousness to Us. Second, imputation has a second major use in scripture. It describes the act of God in visiting the guilt of believers on Christ and of conferring the righteousness of Christ upon believers. In this sense "imputation is an act of God as sovereign judge, at once judicial and sovereign, whereby He -- (1). Makes the guilt, legal responsibility of our sins, really Christ's, and punishes them in Him, Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; and (2). Makes the merit, legal rights of Christ's righteousness, ours, and then treats us as persons invested with all those rights, Rom. 4:6; 10:4; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9. As Christ is not made a sinner by the imputation to Him of our sins, so we are not made holy by the imputation to us of His righteousness. The transfer is only of guilt from us to Him, and of merit from Him to us. He justly suffered the punishment due to our sins, and we justly receive the reward due to His righteousness, 1 John 1:8,9" (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, chap. 30, Q. 15.)

That Paul means us to understand a judicial act of imputation is clear. God did not make Christ personally a sinner. The reference is not to Christ's subjective experience. He was as personally sinless and impeccable when He was bearing our sins on the cross as He had ever been. What Paul is describing is God's act of reckoning our sin to Christ so as to make Him legally liable for it and all its consequences. Similarly, while believers are not by any means righteous in their subjective experience, God reckons to them the full merit of Christ's obedience in life and death (Rom. 5:18,19). That righteousness, not any attained virtue, is the ground of a believer's acceptance with God. . . This signifies a legal imputation, not a "moral infusion" of righteousness . . . not in our works, or even in our faith. By faith we receive Christ as our righteousness, but we must never locate the merit of our justification in our act of faith. No action of ours, even our believing, is perfect. Thus no action of ours, even our believing, can be the ground of our justification, which demands a perfect righteousness" 1 Cor. 1:30.

Understanding Imputation Yields Assurance. As long as Christians keep dissecting their own faith to see if they "really" believed, felt enough penitent emotion, prayed the right prayer, or have performed to a sufficient high standard, they will destroy assurance. There is no perfection in the best we have done or can do. And yet assurance demands a perfect foundation on which to rest. We have that foundation in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which God has made over to the account of every believer. He who believes in Christ stands before God's judgment bar as if he personally had rendered the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus. . .This is the liberty from having to establish our own righteousness before God, or having to do something to gain his acceptance. Christ has done all that. Now we serve, not to be justified, but because we are "justified freely by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" Rom. 3:24.

Dictionary of Theological Terms, Alan Cairns

The Debate: Imputed or Morally Infused Righteousness?

As it is not to be found in the scriptures, let us turn to Mr. Webster for a brief definition of infusion: "to introduce, as by pouring; cause to penetrate, instill; the introduction of a saline or other solution into a vein." (Mr. Webster makes no mention of the Romanist's infused righteousness!)

Romanistic infusion.

Shall I partake of a wafer and some wine; these of which upon entering my digestive system are (said to) become the body of Christ? Therefore I am gradually becoming morally righteous? Infusion supposes that the entering in of whatever the misconception is of Christ will in some way overcome, offset, or gradually dissipate the sin element housed within man. But what if, instead of "righteousness" dissipating sin, it became infused together with it? True infusion would not join two together without entwining and altering the elements. The individuality of each would be lost. That is to say, that righteousness would no longer be righteousness, and sin would cease to be sin. The "doctrine" of infusion totally ignores the requirement of God's Law of imputed righteousness.

Imputed righteousness and the new birth.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. . .Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved" Eph. 2:1,5. If one, being dead, received a transfusion (infusion), of what benefit would it be to his lifeless body? He's dead!" A dead body is not quickened and brought to life again by any act of infusion! "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" Eph. 2:8. Can a dead man quicken himself? Can death bring forth life from within itself? Let's read verse 8 in reverse order: The gift of God, not of yourselves, through faith ye are saved through grace. All is the gift of God: the grace, the faith, the salvation. One is saved by the means of God-given faith. That faith has an object. The power to save is not in the faith itself. It is in the object wherein the faith finds lodging: it is in the crucified, risen Christ! And Christ himself is a gift of grace - you know - For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him . . .again, faith - and its object, the Son of God! It is through Christ that the eternal God imputes the righteousness of Christ to our account. It has been well said, faith is the means by which God imputes righteousness unto justification - but the grounds for justification lies in the finished work of the Person of Christ Himself.

"What about my sin? I must believe two things: not only that Christ's righteousness is imputed to my account, but also that my sin was imputed to his account. The righteousness of Christ is imputed in my behalf for all eternity, but the sin that was imputed unto him is eternally gone!

Imputed righteousness and the Spirit.

"Be filled with the Spirit" Eph. 5:18. Or does it say, "Be infused with the Spirit?" If a glass or piece of pottery be filled with pure water; the water is housed within the vessel. Though the water sit in the container all day, they remain separate; the elements of which they consist remain unchanged. The water cannot be said to become infused with the vessel, nor the vessel with the water. If such an infusion were the norm then the pure water would become contaminated with the elements of the vessel.

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" John 3:6. Clearly, no infusion here. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" Gal. 5:16. Again, how ludicrous to imagine any form of infusion under such adverse circumstances!

The righteousness of Christ.

It is uniquely His; it is not imputed (How could One have righteousness imputed to his account when He is Righteousness!)

"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of his people" Heb. 2:16,17. "took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" Phil. 2:7b,8. God cannot die! But man dies. "And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all . . .thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin . . .shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities . . .he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many" Isa. 53:6b,10b,11b,12b. Need we present scripture to verify the sinless perfection of this man? He could not die: he was never personally subject to nor under the law of sin and death. (Note: He was "made [ginomai, to cause to be] under the law" Gal. 4:4. He was made subject to the Law of righteousness.) But he could die; he did die, as he came under the law of sin and death in our stead: he bore our iniquities; he received our just punishment as required by the law of sin and death. And this he did as the Son of man; the second Adam. "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" II Cor. 5:21.

Imputed righteousness and the Christian.

If infused righteousness was indeed a scriptural truth, then it should be verified by the apostle Paul. "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" Phil. 3:9. Further, in Roman 7, Paul gives personal testimony: "For I delight in the law of God . . .I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members . . .So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." But where is the law of infused righteousness? The obvious is obvious. It cannot be present because it is non-existent! His cry: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" II Peter 3:18. It would seem logical to human reasoning that Christian growth and the fruit thereof could be accompanied by the infusion of a personal, moral righteousness. But nowhere in the scripture is to be found the words "grow in righteousness." Why would one desire a "growing" righteousness within himself when the scriptures plainly declare that God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to our account? If I am made a child of God upon the merits of Christ, then why should I search for "another" righteousness; one for which I must conclude myself responsible? Do I assume it needful to work for "additional" righteousness? Or worse, do I account the righteousness of Christ something less than sufficient? God forbid!

"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In the letter to the Philippians Paul declares: "I follow after . . reaching forth . . .I press toward the mark . . ." Pray tell, Brother Paul, what is it that you seek? "That I may know him." Psalm 119 is fixated on the precepts, statutes, the Word of God. Prays the Psalmist: "quicken me according to thy word . . make me to understand the way of thy precepts . . .strengthen me according to thy word . . .I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart." (vs. 25-32) The Psalmist not only prays for, but expects the Lord to "enlarge his heart!" "Lord, increase my capacity for you!" A church may have a small congregation, but if it experiences much growth in membership, there may come the need for expansion. The heart of the Psalmist is become full of his love for the Lord and his precepts. "Lord, enlarge my heart that I may have greater capacity for you!" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart. . ." "Lord, enlarge my heart that I may love you more!" But alas! I fear that my heart may have no present need for enlarging - not until it is full of love for the Savior and his Word.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled" Matt. 5:6. Question. If I am filled, how shall I any longer be found hungering and thirsting after righteousness? Might the answer be in the principle of filling and enlarging? Lord, fill my heart with Yourself and then enlarge my heart unto a renewed hunger and thirsting?

In conclusion.

I realize that exposing the folly of infused righteousness will knock the crutch out from under some believers. On what can I now depend? And what hope have I now of sanctification? "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" Psalm 119:9-11. Sanctification? It is not of rules and regulations of human design with which I may attempt to govern my life. These are not accounted for righteousness. What do I hold in my hand? Is it not the invincible two-edged sword; the Word of God, yea a gift of God (that should be) most highly treasured? Lament not for "infused righteousness!" Let us look unto and into the Word of God. We can cleave to it; we can draw it unto ourselves without reservation. Dare we say that it is righteousness; that it is able to give knowledge of the Righteous One. May our prayer be even as the Psalmist: "quicken me according to thy word . . .make me to understand the way [Way] of thy precepts . . strengthen me according unto thy word."

"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. . Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" Eph. 4:7,13.

"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Christian growth? Being partakers of Christ. Having our hearts enlarged to a greater capacity for Him. Being partakers of Christ. Having our hearts enlarged to a greater capacity for Him. . .

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