If no single verse “proves” imputed righteousness, then perhaps no single verse “refutes” it. Fair enough? I’ll look at the most commonly used verse for imputed righteousness: 2 Corinthians 5:21. “He made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (and for the record, this is not an anti-Calvinist post at all. Many Calvinists do not hold to imputed righteousness.) Let’s look at what the verse is and is not saying.
- There is nothing in the verse about Christ’s active obedience being transferred to our “account.”
- The language of this verse is not even “imputation” language at all! I don’t have my Greek NT on me, but I am quite certain that the word used is a variant of ginomai (to become) and not logisthai (to impute, reckon).
- What is God’s righteousness? Someone suggested “The Holy Spirit.” I am not discounting that interpretation, and indeed I think I will come to something quite similar, but I have other reasons for just “playing it slowly” on that one. Following something that Matthew Gallatin suggested: the righteousness of God isn’t a static entity or “thing,” but the very life of God himself. Without venturing into the scorched earth that is Greek semantic domain, I think this interpretation comes very near to the language of 2 Corinthians 5:21. God isn’t saying he will pump some divine gas into us, but that we become part of his righteousness. There is a dynamism at play, not a legal transfer.
- This is actually very close to the language of 2 Peter 1:4, where we become partakers of the divine nature. Now, we need to get some concepts straight. When we say we become partakers of God’s nature, we are not saying that we ourselves are subsumed under the essence of God. We are partaking of God’s essence, but through his energies. Our partaking of God is neither hypostatic (per Christ and the union of two natures) nor is it essential (we do not become the very [incommunicable] essence of God), but energetic.
- But what is the life of God? It is not God’s acts towards us? Is not the life of God God’s energies? As John Meyendorff writes, “The divine energies are not “things” differing from one supreme “thing,” God’s essence. Grace is not something with which God rewards people, but a manifestation of the living God” (St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 122-123).
In conclusion, in becoming “the righteousness of God” (of course, all of this is focused around union with Christ, which we have not discussed here) we do not have some static entity transmitted to us, but are called to partake of the very life of God. God in his acts toward us we know as God’s energies. Since we do not see ourselves as becoming the very essence of God, we have to understand 2 Corinthians 5:21 as participating in the life of God. Of course, God’s life as seen in his acting towards us is God’s energies.