Can you find imputation?

I have been critical of the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness for the past seven years.  Even when Reformed, I held it at arm’s length.   I still don’t think a lot of the proof-texts for it are all that convincing.  However, hints of the doctrine are there.  Consider Romans 8:2:  “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” speaking of Christ’s death.

It seems that Christ fulfilled the law and that fulfillment has something to do with our salvation.   For sure, this isn’t the full imputational theology found in 19th century Southern Presbyterianism, but neither is it a wild stretch either.

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37 comments on “Can you find imputation?

  1. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Can we bring in, since you mention “Southern Presbyterianism,” that 20th century NT professor, Mr. Machen? I know this is a long comment, but here I go:

    Here’s three excerpts from his, “What is Faith”

    “But as it is, in ,
    accordance with the gospel, God has granted us His
    favor as an absolutely free gift; He has brought us into
    right relation to Himself not on the basis of any merit
    of ours, but altogether on the basis of the merit of
    Christ. Great is the guilt of our sins; but Christ took
    it all upon Himself when He died for us on Calvary.
    We do not need, then, to make ourselves good before
    we become God’s children ; but we can come to God just
    as we are, all laden with our sins, and be quite certain
    that the guilt of sin will be removed and that we shall
    be received. When God looks upon us, to receive us or
    to cast us off, it is not we that He regards but our great
    Advocate, Christ Jesus the Lord. ”

    “It may seem strange that we should be received by the
    holy God as His children; but God has chosen to re-
    ceive us; it has been done on His responsibility not ours;
    He has a right to receive whom He will into His pres-
    ence; and in the mystery of His grace He has chosen
    to receive us.

    That central doctrine of the Christian faith is really
    presupposed in the whole New Testament; but it is
    made particularly plain in the Epistles of Paul. It is
    such passages as the eighth chapter of Romans, the sec-
    ond and third chapters of Galatians, and the fifth chap-
    ter of II Corinthians, which set forth in plainest fashion
    the very centre of the gospel.”

    “If Christ saves us only part way, and leaves
    a gap to be filled up by our own good works, then we
    can never be certain that we are saved. The awakened
    conscience sees clearly that our own obedience to God’s
    law is not the kind of obedience that is really required;
    it is not that purity of the heart which is demanded by
    the teaching and example of our Lord. Our obedience
    to the law is insufficient to bridge even the smallest gap;
    we are unprofitable servants, and if we ever enter into
    an account with our Judge we are undone. Christ has
    done nothing for us or He has done everything; to ; de-
    pend even in smallest measure upon our own merit is
    the very essence of unbelief; we must trust Christ for
    nothing or we must trust Him for .all. Such is the
    teaching of the Epistle to the Galatians. ”

    My question to you is, “if one disagrees with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, or put more specifically, with the “Active Obedience of Christ,” does that leave the believer in a state of unfulfilled salvation? If imputation of righteousness is not true, then does that leave me as a believer in a state where I still have to fill the “gap” that Machen and I see as fulfilled only in the classic presbyterian formulation of imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the Active Obedience of Christ, of which Machen said, on his deathbed, ““I’m so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

  2. Andrew says:

    Maybe. Had Paul used ‘for us’ instead of ‘in us’, then this would be a strong passage to cite in defense of imputation.

  3. Andrew says:

    Maybe. Had Paul used ‘for us’ instead of ‘in us’ you’d have a stronger case.

  4. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I want to hear more about the problems that people have with imputed righteousness. I see no answer to the problem I perceive, namely, some form of denial of imputation introduces some form of Pelagianism.

    Could your form argumentation be used against, for example, the Trinity, as well?

    I may go as far as to say that since sin is not imputed to us, we are by necessity imputed with righteousness as believers.

    For me, imputed righteousness is as clear in the message of the Pauline epistles as the Trinity is. That was my reasoning behind the Machen citations.

    • Andrew says:

      Andrew (good name!),

      I want to hear more about the problems that people have with imputed righteousness. I see no answer to the problem I perceive, namely, some form of denial of imputation introduces some form of Pelagianism.

      My knowledge of Augustine is limited, but I’m pretty sure most if not all Augustine scholars acknowledge that he did not believe in imputed righteousness. From what I can tell, his position on justification is closer to what is taught in Tridentine Catholicism. And of course, it would be pretty silly to call Augustine — the anti-Pelagian theologian par excellence — a Pelagian.

      And the problem I have with imputed righteousness — at least right now — is that it appears to be a 16th century novelty in the Christian tradition. Alister McGrath makes that pretty clear in his magnum opus, Iustitia Dei. If it’s so central to the gospel, then why does it appear to be unknown to Christians (like Augustine) before the 16th century?

      I say this as one who is sympathetic to the doctrine, even though I probably don’t believe it.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Good name indeed 🙂

        I’m willing to dispense with the heavy meaningful and historical language (i.e. pelagian) to explain again more plainly what my problem is. Let’s assume that, as a Christian, the righteousness of Christ is not imputed to me. How does God view me, at this very moment. As a sinner, correct? I flatly agree with my Heavenly Father here. I am in need of God’s grace so as to enter His throne room. Can someone explain the process by which I am to feel that I can approach boldly the throne of our God? I know of only being clothed in the richness of the garment that is Christ’s active obedience. If someone knows of another way, I’m all ears. What I am saying is, if you have a problem with imputed righteousness, how do you feel able to stand in the presence of a Holy God? How can one even pray to Him, without knowing that Christ as our advocate brings us into that state of Grace? This is not an argument, but an explanation of where I am at. I am not as learned in my history of Augustine, etc, and am willing to look into what McGrath and others said. But you can perhaps see my “plain language” struggle here? Peace.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Machen is arguing that imputation is seen in the Pauline Epistles. I’m with him. I realize my argumentation is saying that my money is with the reformed. I’m at a place where I have a hard time with anyone telling me I must do this or that to achieve salvation. Affirming imputed righteousness is not my way of being lazy, I hope. But rather one that leaves the glory of my salvation rightly where it belongs, with God. He has achieved for me what I never could. It’s my joy to serve my God and King and to live in His creation, for His glory. The moment we introduce a “man generated” salvation, even the smallest hint, seems to me to lead us down the path of allowing man to boast of something that he has done to achieve salvation. All my years in Christianity tell me that my salvation is God’s work, not mine. Imputed righteousness fits within this framework nicely. I’m always open to hearing better interpretations to how others think God deals with us, especially in matters of soteriology. Enough comments from me – I don’t mean to be overbearing or drown you all out. Peace.

      • Andrew says:

        Andrew,

        How does God view me, at this very moment. As a sinner, correct?

        Yes, as a sinner. But God loves sinners. Part of the problem I have with imputed righteousness is some of the assumptions about God that drive it. Maybe it’s just my own misunderstanding, but the way it’s talked about sometimes is that God loves us and accepts us only because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Outside of that, we’re hated — God cannot stand us. God only loves us because of Christ, and thus God only really loves Christ. To put it crassly, God sees us through Jesus lenses. But that doesn’t seem to square with the Bible.

        What I am saying is, if you have a problem with imputed righteousness, how do you feel able to stand in the presence of a Holy God? How can one even pray to Him, without knowing that Christ as our advocate brings us into that state of Grace?

        How I feel is irrelevant. In my ‘best’ moments, I feel unworthy, and yet grateful that I am loved and forgiven by God. In my worst moments, I don’t really feel much of anything. But most importantly, Jesus and the apostles command me to pray to God.

      • Andrew says:

        Andrew,

        The moment we introduce a “man generated” salvation, even the smallest hint, seems to me to lead us down the path of allowing man to boast of something that he has done to achieve salvation. All my years in Christianity tell me that my salvation is God’s work, not mine. Imputed righteousness fits within this framework nicely.

        This is why I am sympathetic to imputed righteousness. I have similar concerns. I’m just not really convinced that it’s taught in the scriptures.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Thanks, Andrew, for sharing. Maybe later, you can let me know a little of your background. I personally am ordained a deacon in the OPC, so my views are pretty well summed up in the classic confessional documents drafted at Westminster. I appreciate your viewpoints and the dialog.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Well, the way a doctrine is handled does not necessarily negate it’s truthfulness, nor whether Scripture teaches is. My mind buzzes with how I understand the doctrine and how various places in Scripture support it. My Romans 5 citation may not be very good, there are other places, in my mind, which I believe I could unpack if I had the time. I’ll have to think about your comment about how ‘God is said to love us only because of the imputed righteousness.’ I would disagree. Lets consider God’s love even for the unregenerate. To be sure, it’s not the same kind of love that He has for His people. But love all the same. That should indicate God is not handcuffed into only loving me because I wear the Garment of Christ’s righteousness. So is God only allowed to love me in a special way, as one of His elect, because of Christ’s work? Well, certainly God could choose to love me apart from my having faith. But it would seem, from all that I know from the teachings of Paul, that this is how has chosen to show me His special covenantal love. I see this not just in Paul, but in my entire reading of Scripture, Old Testament, Genesis 3:15, etc etc. Again, I don’t want to be seen as arguing. I would not tell anyone that he/she must drop what he is doing and go read Machen in a quiet room until one has a proper understanding of all this. All I can do is reveal that I find this as being foundational, and I can further cite if and when the time comes. In the meantime, I am committed to prayer over the matter, and would suggest to anyone reading this the same. My email is andrew.d.buckingham@gmail.com, if anyone is interested. Peace. And Thanks Jacob for you also are revealing where you are at. It’s a happy thing to see Christians engaging in helpful dialog with one another.

  5. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Apologies for the many comments, but this also must be added: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”. (Rom 5:15-18)

    • Andrew Buckingham says:

      *Rom 5:18-19

    • Andrew says:

      The obvious question is what does Paul mean by ‘justification’? If the condemnation spoken of extends beyond merely possessing a status of guilt before God to an actual state of sin and corruption, then the justification spoken of would have to extend beyond merely possessing a status of innocence before God to an actual state of righteousness and immortality. That seems to be the most reasonable read of that passage. Also, as the scope of the condemnation is universal (‘for all men’), so is the scope of justification (‘for all men’). I’m not sure what that means exactly, but on both counts this passage doesn’t seem to be very favorable to historic Reformed soteriology.

  6. Andrew H: You wrote,
    hen the justification spoken of would have to extend beyond merely possessing a status of innocence before God to an actual state of righteousness and immortality. That seems to be the most reasonable read of that passage.

    Most Reformed scholastics would agree with you.

    ***I’m not sure what that means exactly, but on both counts this passage doesn’t seem to be very favorable to historic Reformed soteriology.***

    It’s quite damaging to all traditions since Origenism was condemned by all. I might proffer an interpretation of it later.

    • Andrew Buckingham says:

      Agree. I am not up to speed on my Origenism, any more than what I just read via a quick Google search. The matter in question does seem to be over definite atonement, IMHO. Peace.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t see how it’s Origenistic if one reads it through the person/nature distinction. Human nature is justified in Christ — this is the universal scope — but human persons must appropriate this justification personally by faith.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        A faith which only God provides, per my view. Not trying to be simply a contrarian. But you have to allow me some latitude. I’m a relative hard core reformed guy, writing comments on a blog that is asking people to weigh in on where imputation is to be found. Better that I get back to what I usually do kin these early hours, namely, read the Bible before I start my day at work. With that, I make my exit, thanking you all. Much obliged. -ab

      • Andrew says:

        From what I understand, Reformed theology does not make the person/nature distinction. Without the person/nature distinction, if all men are justified in Christ, universalism follows (hence the Origenism that Jacob mentioned). That’s why the ‘for all men’ of Romans 5 must mean only the elect. I understand why the Reformed read the text in this manner — universalism isn’t a live option — but for my money, that’s a gross misreading of the text. Those who read it in such a way try to fit a square peg in a round hole. But with the person/nature distinction, universalism qua persons isn’t implied.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Clearly, we are going to have to flesh out this “person/nature distinction.” Know that it was my OPC Pastor who recommended McGuckin’s “St. Cyril of Alexandria.” So if we need to juxtapose an eastern orthodox and reformed Christology, Jacob would be our man for the job. But I will admit, I’m failing to see how we are moving from these imputation questions to Christology (though I’m sure the connection is there). I’m happy to look into the proper exegesis of Romans 5, but I think I am coming to terms with the fact that there are better places to find support for imputation. That just struck me as one. Try: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become sthe righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21). What I am supposed to do with this?

      • Andrew says:

        Andrew,

        I don’t even think I know what the person/nature distinction even means, but I know it’s an article of faith for those who profess historic Triadology and Christology (and that’s both of us). But for the Eastern Orthodox, it extends beyond merely Triadology and Christology. It also shapes soteriology. So for an Eastern Orthodox reading of Romans 5: Christ justifies human nature, i.e. He liberates human nature from its bondage to sin, death, and the devil. And this natural (in the technical sense) justification, though it does have some effects on all persons (e.g. the resurrection of all the dead to immortality), must be appropriated personally by faith. Some persons (i.e. the wicked) fail to appropriate this justification personally, and they will be raised to judgment and final condemnation.

        That’s my understanding. I think it helps make sense of the universal language of redemption found in the New Testament while also maintaining the reality that some will not be saved in the end.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        I will say that if we are veering into questions of the eternal state of the reprobate and unregenerate, over and against believers, I may hop off the bus at this point. Not that I can’t talk about it. I just think it’s a topic for another time. Jacob had posted a few months ago on facebook, asking questions about whether Christ assumed a “free-will human nature” or something to that effect, and I think he thought that the “reformed” circles didn’t accept that Christ did. Well, I don’t know what the “reformed” think, but I call myself reformed, and I affirm that Christ assumed a full human nature in the incarnation. It’s over my head too (I’m an accountant, and not seminary trained) but there’s enough people who write on these important topics, on the internet and otherwise, that for interested parties, I definitely thing some time spent thinking about them is valuable. In my own personal life, my studies and reading in theology has led me to a place where I find more and more interesting things, and not only does theology get more interesting, but the knowledge of a loving Creator becomes more and more apparent. What I am saying is, these studies have had the effect of producing in me more assurance of the God that exists who is Love. http://www.esvbible.org/search/1+john+4%3A7-8/

  7. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I think you are forgetting the words, ‘leads to.’ I am confident that Reformed Scholastics would vigorously defend these words in their plain meaning while affirming definite atonement. Likely, an RC Sproul or the like would answer with a ‘Atonement which is sufficient for all, but efficient for only the elect.’ I’m no scholar, but that’s what my gut says.

  8. Andrew Buckingham says:

    My reply was meant to be in response to Andrew. Peace.

  9. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Andrew H,

    “Part of the problem I have with imputed righteousness is some of the assumptions about God that drive it. ”

    I’m happy to continue discussing these matters, as you are able. I’d specifically like to know more about what assumptions about God are held by those who fully adopts imputed righteousness views. SInce this doctrine forms a major foundation of my theology, and I wish to ensure my theology is both ontologically and Scripturally true, I’m excited to find people who wish to dialog. E-mail me offline at andrew.d.buckingham@gmail.com as you feel led. Or we can talk on Jacob’s blog, here. No rush.

  10. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I think maybe you are struggling with the idea that “God hates me.” I don’t think we need to make the language that harsh. All that needs to be said is, “how does Andrew Buckingham” enter the presence of a Holy God, sinner that I am? I’m not talking about hatred. I am talking about sin and holiness contrasted, and only reconciled through what Christ has worked through his active obedient life. I hope that helps. I have hijacked this blog enough, no more from me! 🙂

    • Andrew says:

      All that needs to be said is, “how does Andrew Buckingham” enter the presence of a Holy God, sinner that I am?

      Is imputed righteousness necessary to enter into God’s presence? I understand that Christ’s salvific work is necessary, that His shed blood is necessary, but must that work be understood strictly in terms of active and passive obedience? What if Christ’s blood has an expiatory effect (i.e. a cleansing effect), and not a propitiatory effect (i.e. an appeasement of God’s wrath)?

      We’re wading in deep waters here, and I’m getting in over my head. Really, I am. At one point I thought I had these things down, but now I’m positive I don’t anymore.

      How about this. What passages do you think are most favorable to imputed righteousness? I think Philippians 3 (‘not having a righteousness of my own’) is the most plausible, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        That’s OK, I don’t want anyone to drown 🙂 Let me scour the internet a bit and I can get back to you later. I appreciate the return to the original question, and the Biblical nature of the question. I think this topic is a good thing to think about, and since I like the doctrine, I’m willing to study more and defend it. I may need to break out some of my systematic theology books when I get back home. Talk to you later.

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        But since you ask about whether imputed righteousness is necessary, let me just say that I am willing to move away from loaded theological terms to try to bring in more plain meaning. One thing that helps in discussions is to understand one another’s backgrounds. None of our religious beliefs exist in a vacuum. We are real people (persons with a nature, I might add) who commune with our Heavenly Father. I’m a very patient man when it comes to theological matters. I hope that reflects the patience that He has towards us as we continue to try to live Godly lives. We have a merciful and gracious God to whom we owe thanks. I always have liked this one: http://www.esvbible.org/search/psalm+139%3A23-24/

      • Andrew says:

        Andrew,

        One thing that helps in discussions is to understand one another’s backgrounds. None of our religious beliefs exist in a vacuum. We are real people (persons with a nature, I might add) who commune with our Heavenly Father.

        ‘Persons with a nature’. Nice one. Ha ha.

        Okay, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I was baptized about just over four years ago, but I’ve been attending an EO church for about five and a half years. You are now able to categorize me and put me in a box as you see fit. Ha ha.

        I love the Eastern Orthodox faith, most likely as much as you love the Reformed faith. But my choosing to become Orthodox has caused a deep rift in my family, who are mostly Reformed Evangelicals. (In fact, my uncle is Ray Ortlund of the Gospel Coalition fame. Do you know the name?) As you can probably guess, they are not overjoyed that I am in an EO church. This causes me great pain, because I love my family and I want to honor them.

        So, out of a desire to love and honor my family, and out of a desire to honor my theological heritage, I am giving historic Protestantism another look. I am trying to be fair, and to be charitable. What I love most about Eastern Orthodoxy is its emphasis on prayer and personal holiness, and its experiential (I could say ‘mystical’, but that’s kind of a loaded word) nature that is tied to the dogma of the church. In Protestantism, I see similar emphases in the lives and works of the Puritans, and so I am mostly drawn to Puritan Reformed Christianity.

        Does that help?

        I would appreciate your prayer on my behalf, even if it’s only a short prayer that’s said one time.

    • Andrew Buckingham says:

      Yes, thank you, Andrew. I appreciate you opening up. I was raised indepedent/fundametalist Baptist, only to meet the daughter of an OPC elder, and 10 years of marriage later, I find myself enjoying puritan writers like you. I’m happy to open up to you about my thoughts on EO (which are scant at best), but mainly, my information on it comes from this friend I have made, Jacob, as well as one of our pastors at church, Tim Walker, who suggested McGuckin after I was getting into some of the moderns (whom I will refrain from naming here). Shoot me an e-mail sometime. And yes, I spend much time in prayer. Know that your sharing with me is valuable, and I treasure prayers on my behalf as well. Peace, my friend. -ab

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Hello Andrew H,

        “I could say ‘mystical’, but that’s kind of a loaded word”

        As I was looking into Mysticism (I know you are shying away from that word), I read an article by B.B. Warfield (shouldn’t surprise you) about this very topic.

        If interested, I can send you the link, although a google search should yield the answer. If you wish to pursue.

        Peace,
        Andrew B.

  11. I appreciate y’all keeping it civil here. I’ve been too busy to repsond these past few days.

    • Andrew Buckingham says:

      No prob. I’d be interested to know if anything is helpful. I’m still pretty hard core committed to active obedience. For me and Machen, no hope without it 🙂

  12. I’ll explain the person-nature distinction in another post.

  13. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Andrew:

    “Is imputed righteousness necessary to enter into God’s presence?

    (AB comment – I certainly don’t want to come to my Heavenly father with some other righteousness. Not my own. Christ’s will do just fine. I’m gonna have to say , ‘yes’.)

    I understand that Christ’s salvific work is necessary, that His shed blood is necessary, but must that work be understood strictly in terms of active and passive obedience?

    (AB comment – must is a strong word. I am arguing against a viewpoint that says I play a part in bringing anything to the table in term of righteousness, at the day of judgment. I struggle because if I must bring some righteousness, if Christ’s isn’t the supply for it, then I feel I am in despair. How will I ever know if the righteousness that I must do and bring, will be enough? Instead, I rest on what Christ did.)

    What if Christ’s blood has an expiatory effect (i.e. a cleansing effect), and not a propitiatory effect (i.e. an appeasement of God’s wrath)?

    (AB comment – so let’s say I am cleansed only. You seem to want to shy away from saying that God has wrath. I understand. The question becomes, why did Jesus have to die, if not to propitiate? At least I think that’s the rub. One can say that Christ’s death is the ultimate example we are to follow. In reformed, there is a true legal transaction. I can go on. I am here only stating what I know. Not yet arguing or putting forth evidence).

    Peace,
    AB

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