The imputed righteousness of Christ would be the logical conclusion of the premise, “If God requires perfect righteousness and perfect holiness to survive His perfect judgment”. But He doesn’t. Perfect obedience to the law is not the only way for justification. There will be mercy on Judgment Day and grace, not merely justice. The problem with Calvinism is that they don’t understand mercy and grace, but hold to strict justice only. God considers our faith as righteousness when we are converted, and He is merciful to all of our past unrighteousness. And it is through the atonement of Christ that God is merciful to our sins. It is not necessary for Christ’s perfect obedience to the law to be transferred to us. God’s mercy and Christ’s atonement is enough.
The word imputed means to reckon or account. It never means that something alien to you is transferred to your account. When the Bible says that faith is imputed as righteousness, instead of works of the law, that means that God considers faith to be righteousness as opposed to obedience to the Torah.
Paul did not deny that a person must be righteous in order to go to heaven, he simply disagreed with the Judiazers as to what righteousness consisted of. Instead of teaching that the Gentiles needed to obey the Torah and be righteous that way, Paul said they needed to be righteous by putting their faith in Christ. His argument went back to Abraham who existed before the Torah yet was righteous by His faith, thus disproving the Judiazers that a person must obey the Torah to be righteous and saved.
Paul was not teaching that a person can be unrighteous and disobedient to God and still go to heaven, as the doctrine of imputed righteousness is usually twisted to mean by modern day false teachers.
When a person puts their faith in Christ, God considers their faith righteousness, He henceforth treats them as righteous, and their past sins are all forgiven. Faith is imputed righteousness, or considered righteousness, because it is the foundation of all genuine obedience. When there is true faith a life of holiness will follow.
THE MYTH OF THE IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST
By Jesse Morrell
An excerpt from the book, “The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature.”
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God said to Israel, “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Mal. 2:17)
There are many today who think that they can be right with God while they are still practicing unrighteousness. They don’t believe that they need to repent of their sins in obedience to the gospel in order to be right with God. These religious sinners will comfort themselves in their impenitence by telling themselves, “I am righteous before God in my position even while I am unrighteous in my practice.”
This type of theological excuse for impenitence is refuted by the Apostle John who said, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7). To believe that you can be righteous, while you are practicing unrighteousness, is a deception. Jesus didn’t die so we could continue to practice unrighteousness. He died that we would be righteous in our practice. As Paul said, “God sending his own Son…. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
Backsliders in Israel were saying “The Lord seeth us not” (Eze. 8:12), and backsliders in the Church are saying the same thing today. I have heard many people say, “When God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin. He sees the righteousness of Christ instead.” This type of talk, which ought to be shocking to our ears, is common place within the Church. This type of theological nonsense, which is a blatant denial of God’s omniscience, is refuted all throughout the Bible (Ps. 33:13-15; Prov. 15:3; Eze. 8:12; 9:9; Jer. 32:19; Job 34:21; Mal. 2:17; Heb. 4:13; Rev 2:2, 2:9; 2:13; 2:19; 3:1; 3:8; 3:15). “The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works” (Ps. 33:13-15). “For the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:21). “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
Jesus Christ did not come to somehow blind God or to take away His omniscience. God is not some fool in the sky who doesn’t know what is going on. When God looked at the churches in Revelation, He did not say “I see the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. I look on you and see blameless perfection.” He said to them, “I know thy works” (Rev. 2:2; 2:9; 2:13; 2:9; 3:1; 2:8; 2:15). And He said, “be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). But those who don’t want to repent of their sins dream that God does not even see their sin anymore.
Charles Kingsley said, “I am sure I have seen people read books, and run about to sermons, in order to enable them to forget those Ten Commandments; in order to find excuses for not keeping them and to find doctrines which tell them that, because Christ has done all, they need do nothing… Do you think your sins are washed away in Christ’s blood, when they are still, and you are committing them? Would they be there, and you doing them, if they were put away? Do you think that your sins can be put away out of God’s sight, if they are not even put out of your own sight? If you are doing wrong, and do you think that God will treat you as if you are doing right? Cannot God see in you what you see in yourselves? Do you think a man can be clothed in Christ’s righteousness at the very same time that he is clothed in his own unrighteousness? … Be not deceived. God is not mocked. What a man sows, that shall he reap. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as Christ is righteous, and no one else.”29
In the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you have a man walking around completely naked and exposed while he thinks that he is wearing the finest suit there is. There are many professing believers today who are just like that man. They think that they are clothed in “the righteousness of Christ” and that God doesn’t see them sin, all the while God sees them exactly as they are as nothing is hid from His eyes. Just as the emperor was deceived into thinking that he had the finest suit, there are sinners in the Church today deceived into thinking that they have the imputed righteousness of Christ.
George Otis Jr. said, “The theological doctrine of ‘imputed righteousness’ has been grossly distorted in our day. We are told that God looks at us through the blood of Christ and sees us as righteous, regardless of our actual state… Let’s stop kidding ourselves. God sees us exactly the way we are. If we are living in obedience, He sees it. If we are living selfish, unholy lives, we can be sure he sees that too.”30
God repeatedly said in Revelation, “I know thy works” and “be zealous therefore and repent.” When he looked at the churches He didn’t say, “I see the righteousness of Christ.” Therefore, nobody should try to comfort themselves in impenitence by appealing to imputed righteousness. The solution is to simply repent. People use the imputed righteousness of Christ as a replacement for repentance unto holiness.
The words of Jesus Christ are sometimes appealed to by Calvinists and Antinomians in order to allude to the need for “the imputed righteousness of Christ.” Jesus said, “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The immediate context of this passage explains what Jesus means when He said that “your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees…” He said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of judgment: But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21-22). “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a women to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).
The scribes and the Pharisees were under the Law of Moses, but we are under the Law of Christ. The Law of Christ is even stricter than the Law of Moses. In this way, our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. To take this passage to teach that necessity for the imputed righteousness of Christ is to overlook the most basic principal of hermeneutics, namely understanding the meaning of a passage through the context of that passage. Jesus was not saying that we can be righteous in our position while we remain unrighteous in our practice, but that if we are going to enter the Kingdom of God we need to be made pure and obedient in our hearts.
To say that we need the imputed righteousness of Christ to be transferred to our account in order to be justified is to say that the grace of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ is not enough, or is not sufficient, for our justification. It is very important to understand that we do not need Christ’s imputed works of the law to be transferred to our account in order to be justified. That would be justification by works of the law. But those who repent and believe are justified by God’s grace through the atonement.
If God looked at our account and saw that it was spotless according to the law, or perfect in the sight of the law, there would be no grace in our justification. Justification by works of the law is when you are pronounced innocent because your record is spotless and perfect in the sight of the law. But justification by grace is when you are pronounced forgiven and pardoned even though your record shows that you are truly guilty and deserving of punishment. Justification by works of the law is deserved or merited, but justification by grace is undeserved or unmerited.
If God looked at our account and saw that it was spotless and perfect in the sight of the law, and He consequently justified us in light of that, then we are justified by the works of the law apart from grace. But if God looks at our account and sees that we are guilty, and He justifies or forgives us despite that fact, then we are justified by grace apart from works of the law. This is what is meant when it says that He “justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). If God sees that we are guilty and deserving of punishment, then being justified by Him is truly by grace because it is undeserved and unmerited.
We are not justified by works or by merit, either from ourselves or from Christ. Christ died for us but He did not obey for us. To say that Christ needed to obey the law for our justification is to say that His suffering and death was insufficient to justify us. We do not need His obedience imputed to our account because His atonement is sufficient for our justification. We are pardoned by God’s grace through the atonement so we do not need Christ’s works of the law transferred to us in order to be justified. We are imputed righteous through Christ, but we do not receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. That distinction is understood when we have a Biblical understanding of what imputed righteousness is.
The New Testament word for “imputed” is “logizomai.” It is translated as “think” (2 Cor. 3:5; 10:2; 10:7; 10:11; 12:6; Phi. 4:8), as “imputed” (Rom. 4:11; 4:22-24; Jam. 2:23), as “counted” (Rom. 2:26; 4:3; 4:5; 9:8), as “reckoned” (Lk. 22:37; Rom. 4:4; 4:9-10), as “accounted” (Rom. 8:36; Gal. 3:6), as “reckon” (Rom. 6:11; 8:18), as “suppose” (2 Cor. 11:5; 1 Pet. 5:12), as “account” (1 Cor. 4:1), as “accounting” (Heb. 11:19), as “conclude” (Rom. 3:28), as “count” (Phi. 3:13), as “esteemeth” (Rom. 14:14), as “impute” (Rom. 4:8), as “imputeth” (Rom. 4:6), as “imputing” (2 Cor. 5:19), as “laid” (2 Tim. 4:16), as “numbered” (Mk. 15:28), as “reasoned” (Mk. 11:31), as “thinkest” (Rom. 2:3), as “thinketh” (1 Cor. 13:5), and as “thought” (1 Cor. 13:11).
When an individual is imputed righteous, it simply means that their sins are forgiven and they are thought of as righteous, esteemed as righteous, counted as righteous, reckoned as righteous, or considered as righteous. When a person is imputed as righteous they are treated as if they were righteous, treated as if they were never unrighteous, or are treated as law abiding citizens.
The Old Testament equivalent word for “imputed” is “chashab.” It is translated as “counted” (Gen. 15:5-6; 31:15; Lev. 25:31; Num. 18:30; Jos. 13:3; Neh. 13:13; Job 18:3; 41:29; Ps. 44:22; 88:4; 106:31; Prov. 17:28; 27:14; Isa. 5:28; 40:15; 20:17; Hos. 8:12), as “thought” (Gen. 38:15; 50:20; 1Sam. 1:13; 18:25; 2 Sam. 14:13; Neh. 6:2; Ps. 73:16; 119:59; Jer. 18:8; Mal. 3:16), as “think” (Neh. 6:6; Job 41:32; Isa. 10:7; Jer. 23:27; 29:11; Eze. 38:10), as “accounted” (Deut. 2:10-11; 2:20; 1 Kin. 10:21; 2 Chro. 9:20; Isa. 2:22), as “imagine” (Job 6:26; Ps. 140:2; Hos. 7:15; Zec. 7:9-10), as “esteemed” (Isa. 29:16-17; Isa. 53:3; Lam. 4:2), as “reckoned” (Num. 18:27; 23:9; 2 Sam. 4:2; 2 Kin. 12:15), as “count” (Lev. 25:27; 25:52; Job 19:15), as “reckon” (Lev. 25:50; 27:18; 27:23), as “counteth” (Job 19:11; 33:10), as “imagined” (Ps. 10:2; Ps. 21:11), as “imputed” (Lev. 7:18; 17:4), as “account” (Ps. 144:3), as “considered” (Ps. 77:5), as “esteem” (Isa. 53:4), as “esteemeth” (Job 41:27), as “imagineth” (Nah. 1:11), as “impute” (2 Sam. 19:19), as “imputeth” (Ps. 32:2), as “reckoning” (2 Kin. 22:7), as “regard” (Isa. 13:17), as “regardeth” (Isa. 33:8), as “thinkest” (Job 35:2), and as “thinketh” (Psa. 40:17).
Therefore, to be imputed righteous is to be counted as righteous, to be thought of as righteous, to be esteemed as righteous, to be reckoned as righteous, to be considered as righteous, to be regarded as righteous, etc. But the word “imputed” does not mean transferred. It is a theological error to say that “the righteousness of Christ is transferred to our account.” If imputed means transferred, when God imputed an uncircumcised individual as circumcised (Rom. 2:26), it means that someone else’s circumcision is transferred to them! The obvious meaning is that they are simply considered circumcised, reckoned as circumcised, or thought of as circumcised, but not that someone else loses their circumcision so that it could be transferred to another.
Some have represented the doctrine of the imputed righteousness “of Christ” as the gospel itself. But if this is the gospel, neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever preached it! The Scriptures abundantly talk about imputed righteousness, but it never talks about the imputed righteousness “of Christ.” That is why John Wesley said “It is nowhere stated in Scripture that Christ’s personal righteousness is imputed to us. Not a text can be found which contains any enunciation of the doctrine.”31
Biblical imputed righteousness is when you are forgiven and treated as if you had always been righteous even though you haven’t been. When Paul was discussing imputed righteousness, he described this state by quoting Psalms 31:1-2. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, blessed are they whoses iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8). To be imputed righteous without the works of the law, according to David and Paul under the inspiration of God, is when your iniquities are covered and your sins are forgiven.
Imputed righteousness is when you are treated as if you had never sinned, as if you had always lived righteously. It is unmerited by any works. This state of acceptance with God is completely undeserved. But as we already saw, you must give up your sins to be forgiven. unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). There is unmerited forgiveness that we receive through the atonement of Christ when we have a living obedient faith, but nobody is imputed righteous or forgiven while they continue to practice unrighteousness or do not cease from their wickedness.
Asbury Lowrey said, “This passage [Rom. 4:5-8] deserves special attention, as it explains all those text that seem to favor, and have been construed to support the theory of the imputation of Christ’s active and passive righteousness to the sinner. Here it is manifest that justification, imputation of righteousness, forgiving iniquities, covering sins, and the non-imputation of sin, are phrases substantially of the same import, and decide positively that the Scripture view of the great doctrine under consideration, is an actual deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin: from which it follows, that the phrases so often occurring in the writings of Paul – the righteousness of God and of Christ – must mean God’s righteous method of justifying the ungodly, through the atonement and by the instrumentality of faith – a method that upholds the rectitude of the Divine character, at the same time that it offers a full and free pardon to the sinner.”32
Charles Finney said, “The doctrine of a literal imputation of Christ’s obedience or righteousness is supported by those who hold it, by such passages as the following: Rom. iv. 5-8.—”But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputed righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” But here justification is represented only as consisting in forgiveness of sin, or in pardon and acceptance. Again, 2 Cor. v. 19, 21. “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 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.” Here again the apostle is teaching only his much-loved doctrine of justification by faith, in the sense that upon condition or in consideration of the death and mediatorial interference and work of Christ, penitent believers in Christ are forgiven and rewarded as if they were righteous.”33
Albert Barnes said, “It is not that his righteousness becomes ours. This is not true; and there is no intelligible sense in which that can be understood. But it is God’s plan for pardoning sin, and for treating us as if we had not committed it; that is, adopting us as his children, and admitting us to heaven, on the ground of what the Lord Jesus has done in our stead… But if the doctrine of the Scripture was, that the entire righteousness of Christ was set over to them, was really and truly theirs, and was transferred to them in any sense, with what propriety could the apostle say, that God justified the ungodly?… the whole scope and design of the Psalm is to show the blessedness of the man who is forgiven, and those sins are not charged on him, but who is freed from the punishment due to his sins. Being thus pardoned, he is treated as a righteous man.”34
We can clearly see that imputed righteousness in the Bible is nothing more than being forgiven and treated as righteous, even though we have lived unrighteous. And as we have seen already, forgiveness of sin only comes after we forsake our sins. Imputed righteousness is therefore in no way contradictory to, or incompatible with, the truth that a man must freely choose to obey the demands of the gospel, particularly the gospel demand to repent unto obedience.
29. Charles Kingsley (True Repentance, 1897 Edition, p. 9-11)
30. George Otis Jr. (The God They Never Knew, Published by Mott Media, p. 40)
31. John Wesley (A Right Conception of Sin by Richard Taylor)
32. Asbury Lowrey, (Positive Theology, Published by R. P. Thompson, 1854, p. 211-212)
33. Charles Finney (Lectures on Systematic Theology, Published by BRCCD, p. 473)
34. Albert Barnes (The Way of Salvation: A Sermon, Delivered at Morristown, New Jersey, Together with Mr. Barnes Defense of the Sermon , Read Before the Synod of Philadelphia, and his Defense before the second Presbytery of Philadelphia, 1836 Edition, p. 254-255)