You’ll probably think that I’m a heretic when I say that I have a
problem with the “imputed righteousness of Christ”. See those quotes?
I’m referring to the terminology—not the (partial) idea behind it. And
it’s not like I’m picking on Doug for using the term because just a few
days ago I was reading an interesting paper, which Sozo recommended,
that made ample use of the term. So yeah, I have a problem with with the term.
Before you post a bunch of passages that are to be undeniable proof of
the imputed righteous of Christ, take a second look at those verses and
tell me the term it actually uses. Sure you’ll see the name of Jesus in
those passages and you may even see the means the righteousness is
imputed is via Christ—but I bet you’ll see the “righteousness of God”.
In fact, here you go—surely not exhaustive: Rom 1:17; 3:5; 3:21,22;
10:3; 1 Cor 1:30; 5:21; Phil 3:9, 10-15: James 1:20 and you can also
look at John 13 – 16)
“Why are you making a big deal out of nothing? Jesus is God, so it’s
the same thing!” Well, yeah, but the thing is that we finite humans
tend to ground our thinking with the identified object instead of the
overarching subject. In other words, some of us may go off and start
thinking that what was imputed to us was Christ’s moral life ignoring
the broader picture.
Forgive the mundane example that falls woefully short of the majesty of
God—I offer it again with all reverence and knowledge of weakness as
finite unholy beings. Imagine God as a perfect circle made up of three
wedges evenly sized wedges. We humans, stuck in our wholly human
systemic thinking, find the insatiable need of categorizing things
being applied to the trinity. So when we study this grand subject of
justification and imputed righteousness we focus on the wedge that is
Jesus Christ. We examine that wedge and notice it’s perfection and then
start making application to ourselves.
The thing is, the Bible speaks of this righteousness coming through
that single wedge, yes, but this is the righteousness of the whole
unbroken circle! Let’s not compartmentalize the love of God into two
departments (Father, Son) and the work of God into two compartments
(Son and Spirit) or the wrath of God into one section (Father). God is
one in three persons. When we speak of the wrath of God, we speak of
the whole triune wrath. When we speak of the righteousness of God we
speak of the righteousness found in the whole triune God.
Now, don’t go into a Trinitarian tangent—the point was to show the
grandeur of the radical mission that the Living God initiated.
Mankind’s guilt ridden sinfulness, his very unrighteousness is what
then demonstrates the righteousness of God (Rom 3:5).
Wait, you mean the “wrath of God”, right Rey? No, the righteousness of
God which is revealed in that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom
1:17). God, in His entirety, must pour out wrath against
unrighteousness but has found a way that men could be imputed His own
righteousness through the tunnel of faith (Rom 3). This righteousness
of God was then manifested, at the fullness of time, in the
presentation of Christ Jesus. He was brought before men, He offered
God’s rule and was rejected…judged unrighteous and set up for a
sinner’s death. God saw man’s decision, overruled the decision and
resurrected Jesus Christ proving the righteousness of God in that the
Son is now with the Father (Acts 2).
Now that last paragraph there showed how it’s possible that the
righteousness being spoken of could be classified in different ways…but
the source is always from God and inherit in God.
So what’s the connection to men? Does He say “Believers are morally
perfect because my Son is morally perfect”? No, rather but on the basis
of faith, men trusting God’s righteousness of Christ dying on their
behalf, He is able to cover over men’s unrighteousness and satisfy the
offense that is against them. It’s not that the sinner is claimed as
“Now Righteous” in the book of offense—it’s that the sinner is claimed
as “Now Dead” (Romans 6:1-7; Gal 2:20).
If the mind wasn’t boggled yet, check this: A living believer is an
actual part of the body of Christ (Col 1:18). The believer is in Christ
and Christ in the believer (Col 1:27). The third person of the trinity
forever placed within the believer, enveloping the believer in that
righteousness inherit in the trinity. Don’t take a leap there and think
that we will be infinite—that’s impossible. We had a finite starting
point—but we will be like Him (1 John 3:2)!
Now, here on earth that righteousness has already been imputed—although
with our flesh we have not yet obtained the perfection (Phil 3). We
will, but for now, as part of that body we are to offer the message of
the righteousness of God to all people fully expecting rejection and
persecution (2 Tim 3:12; Gal 4; 2 Cor 4:9; Luke 21;12; John 15, 16).
This persecution isn’t a cold, or some hunger or our constant battle
with sin. This persecution is that fiery opposition which results from
the righteousness of God which results in New Creations being presented
to unrighteous sinners still under the death penalty.
The perception of persecution can then shift from “How evil are these
woeful sinners” to “I, a sinner, am of the body of Christ! If He could
work this in me, He could work this in anyone!” We become partakers in
the suffering of the unified body of Christ Jesus, which is the church
(Col 1:24; Phil 3:10).
This righteousness of the triune God was manifested in the flesh in
Jesus and in the resurrected Son with power (Rom 1; 1 John 1). The
access to that righteousness is made available through the work of the
Son and His conquering of death. Appropriating that work is done on the
basis of faith. Faith bases the saving work not on the individual but
on the only righteous one who can do the work. That righteousness is
imputed while we’re in imperfect bodies. The work He begins, He will
make sure to finish perfectly. In all this, we see the righteousness of
God, His infinite wisdom, His multiplictious grace, His perfect
sanctification and His ultimate redemption so we don’t boast in any
form of moral intelligence, wisdom, perfection or work, but rest
completely and fully on what the Lord has done with His own
The subject is exceedingly large. My series on Romans
is dealt with mostly looking at the righteousness of God being defended
but in all honesty, the
Scriptures reveal the righteousness of God from cover to cover. Each
step in that
journey leads to an even deeper realization of the grandeur of the
radical salvation by which He rescued us. From initiator to completer,
it is a work of the Almighty and Sovereign God. As an aside, don’t
bother limiting my words to Calvinist theology. This all sounds very
Calvinistic but this is a portion where Calvinist theology comes closer
to the truth than most. Lastly if you think I’m a pure moron for making
a big deal of it, then bear with my weakness and realize that I would
rather use the terms as stated in Scripture unless the concept isn’t
explicitly stated in a phrase or word in Scripture…then we can make
up words to try to come to grips with it. :)