Imputed Righteousness (1)

By Tom Roberts


The Bible teaches imputation. It relates directly to salvation and only non-believers in the word of God would reject what the Bible teaches on this subject. But like many other Bible subjects, error seeks to give a false definition to a Bible word, then seek to impose this new definition upon Christians in the place of the Bible usage.


Bible word Shift in definition and usage Resulting in the charge
“faith” “faith only” “You believe in salvation by works.”
“sing” “play” “You don’t believe in music.”
“works” “justified by perfect law keeping” – only used allowed “You are a legalist” any time any kind of work is used.
“imputation” “personal righteousness of Jesus transferred” “You think you are saved by your righteousness”

We need to be aware of this shift in definition and insist on clear definition, knowing that truth cannot be sustained by faulty definitions.

I. Personal Statement:

A. Attitudes have consequences (cf. Attitudes and Consequences by H. Hailey).

B. I make no apologies for a strong stand against what I perceive to be error. I do not speak for anyone else than myself but I want to be clearly understood. I do not believe that our subject can be left in the same categories with the “covering” question or carnal warfare, etc., since these matters are not being pushed into congregations as matters of faith. The position I hold is being branded as “legalism” (Gal. 3:10, etc.) which is clearly condemned by Paul. If I am guilty as charged, I am lost for none can be saved under that system. I would be guilty of preaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9). But if I “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) on this subject, we are witnessing a widespread departure that needs to be opposed. One of these positions is sinful; both cannot be right.

C. Any study of imputation would be incomplete if it did not show adequately it’s ramifications in other areas of the Bible. Some of these include:

1 . The plan of salvation (faith, baptism, works, nature of man, justification, sanctification, etc.). All of these are directly affected by the meaning attached to imputation.

2. Security of the believer (does God charge sin to a Christian?).

3. Fellowship (with sectarians, with digressive brethren, indeed even in our attitude toward what may be perceived to be error).

4. Doctrine as distinct from gospel (as some confidently affirm).

5. Imputation’s own vital link with an entire theological system which stands or falls together.

D. Historically, I perceive errors on imputation to be a reversion to pre-restoration theology insofar as it affects churches of Christ. Denominations have always held these views, but not our brethren.

II. Definitions.

A. “Righteousness,” “justification.” Various translations use these words interchangeably. In the adjective, noun and verb forms, we have right, righteous, righteousness and just, justification and justify.

B. “Righteousness” “The virtue or quality or state of one who is just; (1)…in the broad sense, the state of him who is such as he ought to be, righteousness; the condition acceptable to God…” (Thayer). Its use in the Scriptures:

1. An attribute of God’s own personal character (Rom. 2:5).

2. God’s plan for making men righteous (Rom. 1:17; 3:21). In Romans 10:3, the Jews were not ignorant of God’s personal character, but of God’s plan of righteousness, the gospel.

3. The state of man who submits to God’s righteous plan (Rom. 10:4).

4. Example: I John 3:7.

5. Some seem to make more of this word than this definition by using it as “flawless perfection.” When one claims that he is righteous, he is charged with claiming perfection whereas he could be meaning “a right standing with God” based on forgiveness.

C. Justification: “The act of God’s declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him; adjudging to be righteous . . . Rom. 4:25; 5:18” (Thayer). “A sense of acquittal . . .” (Vine).

D. Just: “Righteous, observing divine and human laws; one who is such as he ought to be. (1) In a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God” (Thayer). “In the New Testament, it denotes righteous, a state of being right, or right conduct . . .” (Vine).

1. Example: Psa. 106:30, 31 – Phinehas.

2. He was not “flawlessly perfect” but “one such as he ought to be, keeping the commands of God,” or righteous before God.

3. Nothing is stated in these definitions of righteousness being something that is transferred from one person (human or divine) to another. It all takes place in the mind of God, not something transferred like a “pound of righteousness,” “an ounce of merit.” This use seems to carry the idea of “infuse” and seems to me to be an inconsistent use by those who want to transfer the personal righteousness of Christ to the believer. (One illus. – “pump poison out/food in.”)

4. What I understand righteousness to be and how I use it:

a. Eccl. 7:29 – “God made man upright.” God made man with the virtue or state or quality of one who is just, one who is as he ought to be, the condition acceptable to God. This was true with Adam at creation and is true with us at birth. Man is not born depraved.

b. But sin destroys this condition (Isa. 59:1, 2); it separates us from God and God charges us with sin (sin is imputed) not transferred or infused from someone else (Adam? Satan? our fathers?).

c. When God forgives, he brings us back to that condition we enjoyed before sin entered our lives. The action of God bringing us back to that “right standing” is imputation. (Note: Some are arbitrary with imputation in that they want to apply it (meaning transference) to righteousness but not to sin, limiting the action to Christ’s righteousness but not to Adam’s guilt. If it demands transference with regard to righteousness it will also demand it with regard to sin. The force of this is inescapable.

E. Impute, Imputation: “To reckon, calculate, count over, hence, a. to take into account, to make account of . . . 2. to reckon inwardly, count up or weigh the reasons, to deliberate. 3. by reckoning up all the reasons to gather or infer” (Thayer, p. 379). “To reckon, take into account, or, metaphorically, to put down to a person’s account” (Vine). “Reckon, think, credit, (logismos) thought. (Classical) is derived from (logo, word), count, collect, reckon. Its root (log-) put together, collect, harvest, suggests a regulated perception and an acceptance of given facts (emphasis mine, tr). Hence, logizomai means: (a) reckon, credit, rank with, calculate; (b) consider, deliberate, grasp, draw a logical conclusion, decide. According, logismos means (a) counting, calculation, (b) reflection, argument, thought, plan; (3) the ability to draw a logical conclusion. The concept implies an activity of the reason which, starting with ascertainable facts, draws a conclusion, especially a mathematical one or one appertaining to business, where calculations are essential. OT. Logizomai translates chiefly (Chasav, Heb.), think, account . . . The rabbi’s thinking was purely human; for them faith was a merit . . .” (The New International Dictionary of NT Theology, by J. Eichler, p. 822-826).

“With the exception of 1 Sam. 22:15 (where the word sum, signifying the set, place or appoint, is used), the idea of imputation is always represented by chasav. This word is largely used, and in slightly different senses. Our translators have rendered it by the word `think’ thirty-seven times; `imagine’ twelve times; `devise,’ thirty times; and `purpose,’ ten times. Hence it may be gathered that it signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived. Thus, it is applied to the `cunning’ workmen who contrived the various parts of the tabernacle, and refers not so much to their skill in manipulating their materials as to their inspired genius in devising the arrangements. It is rendered `find out’ in 2 Chron. 2:14, where we read of a certain person employed on the temple who was skillful to grave any manner of graving, and to `find out’ i.e., picture up in the imagination – `every device which shall be put to him . . . .’

“It is easy to see that a word which represents this process of the thought or imagination may be applied in various senses. Thus it is rendered regard, i.e., `pay attention to,’ in Isa. 13:17, 33:8.

“It is also used to express the estimation in which one person is held by another. Thus Job says (18:3) `Wherefore are we counted as beasts and reputed as vile in thy sight?’ . . . Isa. 53:3, 4 . . : silver `was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10:21) . . . `The houses of the villages which have no walls shall be counted as the fields of the country,’ i.e., shall be dealt with on the same principle as the fields . . . 2 Sam. 19:19, `Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely.’ Neh. 13:3, `They were counted faithful.’ Ps. 44:22, `We are counted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Prov. 27:14, `He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, it shall be counted a curse to him.’ Ps. 106:31, Phinehas’ deed was `counted unto him for righteousness.’ Hos. 8:12, `I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.’

“In all these passages a mental process is involved whereby a certain thing or a course of action is subjected to a sort of estimation as to value or position . . . a few passages remain to be noticed, and they are important from their theological meaning: – Gen. 15:6, Abraham `believed in the Lord and he counted it to him (for) righteousness.’ God reckoned him as righteous, on the ground of his faith. Lev. 7:18, `It shall not be accepted, neither shall it be imputed.’ The offering shall not be reckoned as having been made. Lev. 17:4, `Blood shall be imputed to that man; he bath shed blood.’ . . . . The word chasav is generally rendered logizomai in the LXX, and the use of this word in the NT exactly accords with what we have gathered from the OT. There are several samples of the ordinary use of the word . . . .

“We see therefore that to reckon, to impute, and to account are one and the same thing, and that the word is used in Scripture to indicate what may be called a mental process whereby the love and mercy which exists in the Divine nature, and which was embodied in Christ, is brought to bear upon the case of every individual who believes in (and acts upon) the word of God . . . (Old Testament Synonyms, by Girdlestone, Associated Pub. Co., 1897).

F. Application of “imputation” to our study:

1. “Impute” never means “transfer.” If so, where is the source authority for this definition and where is the context that so demands it? If it can be proven that it means “transfer” even in a secondary sense, this would not justify making a secondary definition to be used in a primary sense. (Ex: Mk. lfi:16, “He that bath an opinion and is broken up into tiny bits and scattered shall be pickled.”?

2. If one insists on “imputing” to mean “transfer,” then it should be used uniformly with all three considerations:

a. Adam’s sin to mankind.

b. Mankind’s sins to Christ.

c. Christ’s personal righteousness to the believer.

3. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). “And it. The word `it’ here evidently refers to the act of believing. It does not refer to the righteousness of another – of God, or of the Messiah; but the discussion is solely of the strong act of Abraham’s faith, which in some sense was counted to him for righteousness. In what sense this was, is explained directly after. All that is material to remark here is, that the act of Abraham, the strong confidence of his mind in the promises of God, his unwavering assurance that what God had promised he would perform, was reckoned for righteousness. The same thing is more fully expressed in vv. 18-22. When, therefore, it is said that the righteousness of Christ is accounted or imputed to us; when it is said that his merits are transferred and reckoned as ours; whatever may be the truth of the doctrine, it cannot be defended by this passage of Scripture” (Barnes Notes on Romans, p. 101, emphasis theirs, tr).

“I have examined all the passages, and as the result of my examination have come to the conclusion, that there is not one in which the word is used in the sense of reckoning or imputing to a man that which does not strictly belong to him; or of charging on him that which ought not to be charged on him as a matter of personal right. The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him. The same is the case in the New Testament. The word occurs about forty times . . . and in a similar signification. No doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word” (Ibid., p. 102).

4. Some insist on impute being “transfer” while others agree that it means “put to one’s account” but insist nevertheless that it is the perfection of Christ that is imputed, whether “transferred” or “put down.” Both are wrong.

5. “It has been erroneously assumed and falsely argued that to impute a thing to a person is to put to his account something that he does not have, or somewhat more than he has. The Presbyterian and Baptist Confessions of Faith, and a host of theologians of both schools, teach that the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to the sinner . . . . The doctrine is wholly without scriptural support. If to impute means to consider a person somewhat more than he is, or to credit him with something which belongs to another, then to impute sin to a person would be to consider him worse than he is, or to charge to him the sins of another. Righteousness belongs to character, and it is absurd to think that personal righteousness can be transferred to another. When by the power of the gospel a man has been made clean and free from sin, God reckons righteousness to him, because he is righteous. God does not pretend that a man is righteous when he is not. The denominational doctrine of imputed righteousness reminds one of the children’s game of `play-like.’ And their doctrine discredits the gospel as God’s saving power, and belittles the merits and efficacy of the blood of Christ, for it teaches that some corruption remains in the regenerate, but he is counted righteous because he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. That is `play-like’ theology.

“But the gospel makes men righteous, just as a soiled garment may be made clean, as clean as if it had never been soiled, by carrying it through a process of cleansing. So the gospel takes the sin-defiled person through a process of cleansing that makes him as clean as if he had never sinned. The Lord does not `play-like’ he is righteous; he makes him righteous by the gospel (Commentary on Romans, by R.L. Whiteside, pp. 98-99).

6. “From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation – something worth carefully noting . . . . For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that in some wonderful manner, he pours into us enough of his power to meet the judgment of God . . . (only thing omitted is Calvin’s quotation of Rom. 5:19 as proof.) To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?” (Brief History of Calvin’s Theory, 1536 (first edition) 1539 (final edition) Institutes of Christian Religion, by John Calvin, Book III, Chap. XI, Section 23).

7. Examples could be given by the score to prove that our own brethren are now using imputation in this manner. If necessary, these quotations can be produced. In keeping with the guidelines of this class, we are avoiding any use of such quotations.

8. “Consistent Calvinists believe, that if a man be elected, God absolutely imputes to him Christ’s personal righteousness, i.e. the perfect obedience unto death which Christ performed upon earth. This is reckoned to him for obedience and righteousness, even while he is actually disobedient, and before he has a grain of inherent righteousness . . . .

And therefore, under this imputation, he is perfectly righteous before God, even while he commits adultery and murder . . . in point of justification therefore, it matters not how unrighteous a believer actually is in himself: because the robe of Christ’s personal righteousness which, at his peril, he must not attempt to patch up with any personal righteousness of his own, is more than sufficient to adorn him from head to foot: and he must be sure to appear before God in no other” (Check to Antinomianism, by John Fletcher, via. Dabney-Frost Debate, p. 197).

“But . . . the personal righteousness of Christ is not so much as once mentioned in all the Bible, with the doctrine of imputation: and yet some divines can make whole congregations of men . . . believe, that the imputation of Christ’s personal righteousness is a scriptural doctrine, and the very marrow of the Gospel! This garment of their own weaving they cast over adulterers and murderers, and then represent the filthy, bloody wretches as complete in Christ’s obedience, perfect in righteousness, and `undefiled’ before God”‘ (Ibid., p. 390).

9. The question before us takes on added signification when we note these concepts of imputation of the personal, righteousness of Christ being applied to matters which we all probably reject as wrong, yet imputation of this interpretation would permit. See below, material taken from Dabney-Frost Debate, p. 83, 118:

Dabney’s Third Article

Righteousness Imputed – Sin Not Imputed

“Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:8).

“Blessing upon the man whom God imputeth righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6).


1. God imputes righteousness apart from works.

2. Separating is a work, therefore,

3. God imputes righteousness apart from separating.


1. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Rom. 4:8).

2. One is made free from sin in baptism (Rom. 6:17); therefore,

3. Sin is not imputed to those baptized.


1. Adultery is a sin (Matt. 19:18).

2. Sin is not imputed to the baptized: therefore,

3. Sin is not imputed to adulterers baptized.


1. “Sin is not imputed where there is no law” (Rom. 5:13).

2. Sin is not imputed to baptized adulterers; therefore,

3. Baptized adulterers are not reckoned as violaters of law . . . .


1. The sin of adultery is forgiven in baptism (1 Cor. 6:9, 11).

2. God takes no account of sin, when one is baptized; therefore,

3. God takes no account of those married in adultery before baptism.

10. Bro. Frost’s reply: Denominational people use this to dismiss baptism:

1. God imputes righteousness apart from works.

2. Baptism is a work; therefore,

3. God imputes righteousness apart from baptism.

11. While we might view such arguments as the above as ludicrous, it hits closer to home when we hear argued that “Sin is not charged to those in Christ (a relationship)” or “Fellowship is in Christ and not doctrine; therefore, no doctrine should become a test of fellowship.” Brethren, don’t miss the point of all this discussion. Fellowship is the ultimate question before us. Imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the believer is being used to promote a wider fellowship with sectarians and this very thing is being practiced all around us. Attitudes have consequences! The formula by brother Dabney is not limited to the marriage question but is actually a panacea for all our problems. With one fell swoop; we may wrap our arms around any and all, ignoring what the Bible says about the doctrinal matters when we have “Christ’s personal righteousness” imputed to us. It is so simple, it can be reduced to “Filling in the Blanks.”

Fill In The Blank

“Sin is not imputed” (Rom. 4:8); “Lord will not impute sin” to those in Christ.

_______________ is a sin.

_______________ is not imputed.

We have seen this used on adultery. Try it with instrumental music, institutionalism, premillennialism, all shades of liberalism, taking the Lord’s supper on Wednesday night, etc. We might even try at on legalism!

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 14, pp. 434-435, 437-439
July 21, 1983