By Marshall E. Patton
In Rom. 4:8-11, Paul teaches that righteousness was imputed to Abraham on the grounds of his faith without circumcision. He then affirms that righteousness is imputed to us on the same basis. The Bible, therefore, teaches the doctrine of “imputed righteousness.” Unfortunately, however, some do not understand the difference between the truth on this subject and the erroneous views of Calvinism. The Bible teaches the doctrine of “foreordination and predestination,” but not according to the Calvinistic concept. So it is with the subject under study.
The failure of some to understand this difference has resulted in severe consequences. Some brethren have accepted false doctrine, churches have been divided, brethren once bound close by fraternal ties have been alienated, and not the least of which has been sin on the part of some, unrepented of, unforgiven, even approved in some in= stances -and all of this justified under the concept of the righteousness of Christ being imputed to the individuals involved. Brethren, it is time to stop, look, and listen! The price we are paying otherwise is too great.
Clarifying The Issue
The word translated “impute,” according to Greek lexicographers, as well as the English word “impute,” according to Webster, admits of two definitions: (1) Attributing what belongs to another – “attributing vicariously” (Web.). With respect to righteousness, this is Calvinism: “For we are said to be justified through faith, not in the sense, however, that we receive within us any righteousness, but because the righteousness of Christ is credited to us, entirely as if it were really ours, while our iniquity is not charged to us . . .” (John Calvin, Instruction in Faith, The Westminster Press, 1949, pp. 40, 41). Thus, Calvinism affirms that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner, so that God no longer sees his sin, but only the righteousness of Christ instead. (2) “To reckon, regard, consider” (Web.). With respect to righteousness, in this latter sense, one is reckoned, regarded, or considered righteous because of what he is because he is righteous. The Bible teaches the latter, not the former.
Righteousness simply means without guilt, and it is a gift from God to the sinner upon the condition of an obedient faith (Rom. 5:17-21; 6:23). Righteousness, therefore, is imputed to us upon the same basis that it was imputed to Abraham, as our text affirms. It should be understood, however, that these conditions are not meritorious. Righteousness is imputed upon the basis of works of faith – not works of merit. Perhaps a failure to understand this accounts for some accepting the erroneous view of “imputed righteousness.” Limited space, however, precludes a discussion of this point of difference just now.
I have before me an issue of The Ensign. Fair, (Vol. IV, No. 4) published monthly by the Ensign Fair Publications of Huntsville, Alabama, “and supported by Churches of Christ and individuals.” In an article therein entitled “The Imputation of Righteousness” by the editor, R.L. Kilpatrick, we read:
The grounds for our righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Himself bestowed on us through our faith in him, which puts us IN HIM, i.e., his righteous body. This is God’s righteousness IMPUTED to all those belonging to the spiritual body of Christ, the church. His righteousness is our righteousness. We become HIS perfection when we are baptized into his body (Rom. 6:3, 4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26, 27). He is head of the body (Col. 1:18) and stands before God as RIGHTEOUS. We, in Him, occupy the same standing before God as does Jesus because his death on the cross perpetually atones for our sins (1 Jn. 2:2).
. . . The same manner in which righteousness is imputed to the Christian race, guilt is likewise imputed to the fleshly race. As we say that a person “in-and-of-himself” is not necessarily righteous, we may also say that a person in and of himself may not necessarily be guilty, as respecting Adam’s transgression. Those who have not reached an accountable age are not personally guilty of violating any of God’s positive precepts. The imputation of Adam’s guilt is an impersonal matter, and the justice of God is maintained in any event. Since the imputation of righteousness upon sinners fits somehow within the framework of justice, neither is it a violation of Divine nature for God to impose guilt upon all who are born in the flesh, whether or not they may have violated divine law. It is simply a matter of God exercising his sovereign right to bestow grace upon whomsoever he chooses (Ex. 33:19) (See also Rom. 9:14-23) . . . .
The infant who dies before reaching the age of accountability, even though under the imputation of guilt, will not come into judgment to account for such guilt. In physical death, all that was inherited from Adam, the Adamic nature, is put off. This leaves the spirit, the soul, of the infant blameless because the soul is not guilty of violating law. In this state, minus the Adamic nature, the innocent possess true righteousness.
John Calvin himself could not do a better job of affirming the false doctrine which he espoused. Yet, brethren are preaching it, and churches are supporting it.
From the 20th Century Christian (Vol. 38, No. 6) in the resignation article by M. Norvel Young, former editor for 30 yeas, we read: “We have opposed sectarianism and eschewed both the extremes of pharisaical legalism and modernistic liberalism. We have discouraged a judgmental spirit and encouraged a humble dependence on the righteousness of Christ, rather than self-righteousness.” I can now understand why he started on the road that brought him to the tragic end that is now his. When one concludes that God sees in his life only the righteousness of Christ instead of sins in his life whether they be through “weakness of the flesh” or “sins of ignorance,” the consequences cannot but be severe.
The Bible no where teaches that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the individual. No where! Rather, the Scriptures teach that righteousness is a gift from God, not upon the basis of meritorious works, for then salvation would be of debt and not of grace (Rom. 4:4), but upon the basis of obedience to conditions whereby faith is perfected (Rom. 4:3; Jas. 2:21-24). God imputes sin to a man when he sins and because he sins. God imputes righteousness to a man when he submits to the righteousness of God because he is then righteous in God’s sight. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).
Truth Magazine XXIV: 47, pp. 753, 763
November 27, 1980