By Clinton D. Hamilton
The subject of imputation has long been a topic of both general and special interest among students of the Bible. Not only is the meaning of the term itself an issue but the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer is also an issue, which is advocated by many religious scholars and leaders in the denominational world. The question to be addressed in this column concerns the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
Question: Is there any sense in which it can be stated that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to man?
Response: The question can be answered by a single word but before this answer is given, there is the need to give context to the answer. First, the meaning of term needs consideration. Impute is from logizomai which means to reckon, to account, or metaphorically it means to be put to one’s account (Vine). Thayer defines it to mean to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; he goes on to state that it means to take into account, to make account of. He further states that metaphorically it means to pass to one’s ac-count, to impute. Reckon is probably as good a synonym as one could give.
If one is not careful in the reading of Scripture, he may conclude that something is reckoned or accounted which the passage does not say. In Genesis 15:6 which is quoted or referred to three times in the New Testament, it is said that Abraham believed God and it (his faith) was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Paul said exactly this (Rom. 4:3). He says later that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). In this same passage he says that the one who believes on him that justifies the ungodly has this belief or faith reckoned or counted to him for righteousness. Again in Romans 4:9, Paul asserts that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. It was a righteousness of faith that Abraham had (Rom. 4:11).
Paul pointed out the faith that Abraham had and called it a strong faith (Rom. 4:20). Abraham was fully persuaded that what God had promised he was able to perform (Rom. 4:21). On this basis, Paul then states that this faith was imputed to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:22). But what was written in Genesis 15:6 was not written for Abraham’s sake alone that faith was imputed to him for righteousness but for us also to whom righteousness shall be imputed if we believe on him that raised up Jesus from the dead for our justification (Rom. 4:24-25). In all that Paul has said, it is abundantly clear that one’s faith is imputed to him for righteousness. In all of the Romans 4 passages referred to above, the verb from which reckon and impute have been translated is logizomai.
In his great section on the subject of faith, James also quoted Genesis 15:6 to show that one is not justified by faith only but by works also. Faith was made perfect by works (Jas. 2:20-22). He then made this significant statement in amplification of his observation: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23). It should be observed against that it was the faith that was reckoned to him for righteousness.
In none of the passages when the word iogizomai is used, is it ever stated that the righteousness of Christ was reckoned or imputed to the person who believes. Rather it is emphatically stated that one’s faith was reckoned or imputed to him for righteousness. Yet, one reads the denominational scholars and preachers affirm that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned or imputed to the person on the basis of his faith. Christ’s righteousness is his, not the believer’s. The believer’s faith in the righteous Christ is imputed to the believer for righteousness. There is a big difference in the concept of the righteousness of Christ being imputed to one and one’s faith being imputed to him for righteousness.
The term righteousness needs to be examined in order to help one better understand what is here under discussion. The term is translated from dikaiosune and according to Vine means the character or quality of being right or just. Thayer defines it as “the virtue or quality or state of one who is dikaios. ” In the broad sense, he says it is “the state of him who is such as he ought to be, righteousness . . .. the condition acceptable to God…. ” When one believes in the comprehensive sense that includes obedience to him whom one trusts, he is made acceptable to God on the basis of this faith. One’s faith is reckoned to him for righteousness. The preposition eis from which for is translated means with a view to or toward and in this con-text means with a view to or toward righteousness or being in a state or condition acceptable to God.
Someone might well raise this question: How then does the righteousness of Christ fit into the picture of one’s being righteous? This is a fair question. The principle enunciated in the word of God is that one is justified or made right on the ground of faith. But it is faith in the Son of God by which we are justified (Gal. 3:24). The just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). When one puts his trust or faith in Jesus Christ who is righteous and on this basis he was able to return to God without a sacrifice for himself (Jn. 16:10), this faith in the righteous Son of God justifies him. One on the basis of this faith is thereby made righteous or acceptable to God. One is before God justified or right or acceptable. Faith is the ground on which this justification or acceptability is made.
One can scripturally answer the question simply “no.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 12, p. 5-6
June 17, 1993