Imputed Righteousness Again

By Mike Willis

It seems that my series of articles on imputed righteousness (Truth Magazine, Vol. XXII, Nos. 3-7) must have stung some of those who are propagating the Calvinist doctrine. I have been reviewed several times in both Ensign Fair and The Persuader (bulletin of Scyene Road Church in Dallas, Texas), edited by Brother Hardin. Heretofore, I have chosen to make no comment about the matter in order to avoid becoming involved in an endless harangue. Lest my silence be interpreted as a weakness in my position, I want to make some comments about the various reviews of my articles on imputed righteousness.

Ensign Fair

Ensign Fair is a periodical which circulates under the editorship of R.L. Kilpatrick and is published in Huntsville, Alabama (2710 Day Road). Since my editorials appeared in the latter part of January and the first part of February, Kilpatrick has replied to me publicly two different times by fame and written on the subject of imputed righteousness in nearly every issue of his paper. I want to review several of the comments which he made with reference to my editorials.

My position seems to present Brother Kilpatrick some problems, with reference to his position on fellowship. In February, 1978, he wrote,

I have never doubted the salvation of this group of brethren over their preference on how to support orphan’s homes or preach the gospel (since God is more interested in “results” than’ in “methods”), but this latest “issue” is a different matter entirely. Grace and Unity and the Imputation of Righteousness are biblically emphasized subjects which are basic to salvation and the understanding of Christianity, and to declare these truths as heresy is coming awfully close to blasphemy! We’re not just arguing “human institutions”, “man-made organizations”, “church treasury” and all such like; we’re dealing with the very foundation of the Christian system. God may very well tolerate the former but I’m not so sure he will the latter. Unless these brethren change their present course, I foresee a general exodus away from the non-cooperative churches in the days ahead (pp. 18-19).

Notice the things which Brother Kilpatrick has stated in doctrine of imputed the gospel; it pertains this comment. He says that the righteousness is the very heart of to the very matter of salvation itself. To deny the doctrine of imputed righteousness is to border on blasphemy and he is not so sure that God will tolerate a man denying the subject. Yet, in the May, 1978 issue of his paper, Kilpatrick wrote,

Lest the reader misunderstand, let me say that I consider Bro. Willis a brother in the Lord, even though he may have different feelings concerning me. Still, I do not imply that he is not a Christian, or that he is a false teacher even though I am firmly convinced that what he teaches is incorrect (p. 15).

It appears to me that Brother Kilpatrick is having trouble deciding whether or not his umbrella of fellowship is broad enough to extend to cover men like me. I stated before that it is extremely difficult for the tolerant to be tolerant of the intolerant. But, Brother Kilpatrick has apparently subdued the emotions he manifested in his February editorial and broadened his umbrella of fellowship to such an extent that he can extend fellowship to those who deny things pertaining to man’s salvation and to one who is on the verge of committing blasphemy. Now, my brethren, that is some umbrella of fellowship!

But notice now what has happened with reference to this grace-unity heresy. Heretofore, they have demanded that there be a uniform teaching as to matters pertaining to salvation and a diversity in all other matters. Now, however, Brother Kilpatrick states that this doctrine of imputed righteousness pertains to man’s salvation but that one can be in his fellowship while denying it. Hence, Brother Kilpatrick is willing to extend his limits of fellowship to those who disagree with him with reference to doctrines pertaining to salvation. Brethren, we have previously charged that the .very principles which are being propagated by those in, the vanguard of this grace-unity heresy lead to universalism. Some have trotted “a pretty fer piece” down that road.

Examining The Review

1. The doctrine of imputed righteousness is Calvinism. In my earlier articles, I documented the fact that imputed righteousness is part and parcel of the theological system known as Calvinism. This seems to trouble Brother Kilpatrick. He charged me with trying to bias people’s minds rather than giving scriptural documentation. Brother Kilpatrick, I gave documented evidence that the doctrine of imputed righteousness is part of the warp and woof of Calvinism because you brethren have been denying that. I showed in that previous article that the doctrine . of imputed righteousness is the theological justification of the fifth point of Calvinism, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Yes, the doctrine of imputed righteousness is part of the total system known as Calvinism.

2. Does God demand perfection? I showed in my initial review of imputed righteousness that the doctrine of imputed righteousness was primarily justified by the proposition that God demands perfection. Since this is the starting point from which Brother Kilpatrick begins in his justification of imputed righteousness, this hit him very hard. His reply was that “every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution. . .” (Heb. 2:2). Then, he added, “Man will either have to pay the supreme penalty for sin or someone else will have to pay it for him. The very purpose of Christ’s coming was to do for man what man couldn’t do for himself’ (May, 1978, p. 17). Brother Kilpatrick is right; every transgression must either be forgiven or punished. However, the forgiveness of sins which comes through Jesus Christ atones for man’s sins. This verse proves absolutely nothing about God clothing a man in the righteousness of Christ (imputing the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account) rather than simply forgiving that sin. Even here, however, the fact that one is saved through forgiveness proves that God does not demand perfect obedience to the law. His plan for blotting out one’s transgressions shows that man can be saved with less than perfect obedience to the law.

The next verse cited was Rom. 8:3-4 which reads as follows: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Notice that this passage shows how the demands of the law were satisfied through Christ. We learn in Rom. 3:25 that this was done through the shedding of the blood of Christ. This passage in the context of Romans 7 shows that a man can be justified before God with a less than perfect record of obedience. The deficiency of man is satisfied through the forgiveness of sins made possible through the shed blood of Christ. Man stands before God’s law without sin to his account because man’s sins have been forgiven through Christ’s blood. God does not engage in some kind of “make believe” transaction whereby when looking at sinful man He sees instead the perfect obedience of Christ, Rom. 8:3-4 and Heb. 2:2 do not prove that the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer.

Another passage cited by Kilpatrick was Romans 3:31. It states, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” My friend, if you can read the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account in this passage you can read how that Satan died for your sins as well! Nothing short of perverting the text would be necessary to read such a doctrine into this passage. What this passage teaches is that God did not close His eyes to man’s disobedience in saving sinful man. Rather, the just demands of the law were met when the price for disobedience was paid through the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Hence, the law of faith does not negate the law; rather, it establishes it.

3. Justification through forgiveness. Kilpatrick wants to take both sides of this one. He wants to say on the one hand, that justification through forgiveness is “no alternative to what we have been saying. It is more or less the very thing we have been saying.” Then, on the other hand, criticize the doctrine as follows:

The central thought behind this scheme is that, first, God’s grace justifies the alien sinner on the merit of Christ’s sacrificial death and personal righteousness, and that this places him within the kingdom of heaven and constitutes him as “righteous.” However, from the point of initial justification onward, God’s grace is activated only in the forgiveness of those sins committed and repented of. Or, stated another way, justification forgives past sins but all future sins are charged and accountable until removed from the record through repentance and formal petition to God for forgiveness. The idea is that the sinner is justified until he sins again which makes him unrighteous; repentance and prayer restores him to a state of righteousness in which he remains until the next sin, and the process starts all over again.

This “jack-in-the-box” righteousness continues throughout the Christian life and if he is fortunate enough to have repented of all his sins at that point where death overtakes him, he will be saved. But woe unto him who may have overlooked a sin committed back in “ought-six” for which the record shows no check mark under “forgiven.” And woe unto him who had an evil thought and died of a heart attack before repenting of it; or unto him who may have become mentally unstable before clearing the divine ledger! (April, 1978, p. 18).

Now, apparently Brother Kilpatrick has trouble deciding whether he is saying that justification comes through forgiveness or not. The truth of the matter is that he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. But, let us look at this latter quotation in more detail.

Kilpatrick speaks of the weakness of justification through forgiveness because it only forgives past sins and does not cover future sins. Frankly, my brethren, I do not have any future sins; the only kind of sins that any man has is past sins. Sin is an act of transgression against God’s will. Hence, a man is not accountable for a sin until he has committed it. The only kind of sins that a man is accountable for is a sin which he has committed. He does not stand before God answerable for some sin which he might commit ten or fifteen years from now. A man only needs forgiveness of past sins because that is the only kind of sins that there are!

Furthermore, Kilpatrick’s comments about “jack-in-the-box” righteousness (I read where another referred to this as “yo-yo” Christians) raise some questions in my mind. He mocked the idea that one falls out of grace through the commission of one sin. Brother Kilpatrick, does one sin separate a man from God? Were Adam and Eve separated from God by one sin? Does one sin separate the person who has never obeyed the gospel from God? Or, must he wait until he has committed several sins before he becomes a sinner in need of salvation? Since you apparently believe that the sins which a Christian commits do not require repentance and prayer before they are forgiven, are we to understand that they are forgiven unconditionally or conditionally? If conditionally, what are those conditions and does that man have a “jack-in-the-box” righteousness until those conditions are met? If unconditionally, the conclusion is that a child of God cannot fall from grace. If not, why not?

A devious lie was implied when Brother Kilpatrick talked about an overlooked sin for which there was no forgiveness “check mark.” That lie was the idea that the forgiveness method of justification demands the specific confession of every sin which a man might have committed and the specific repentance of every sin which a man might have committed. No one, to my knowledge, has ever so written that one must specifically repent of every sin and specifically confess every sin in order to have it forgiven. One can make a general confession of sin and a general repentance to stand justified before God. If that sounds strange when stated with reference to this issue, apply the same matter to the salvation of the alien sinner. Does the alien sinner have to specifically repent of every sin he has ever committed in order to stand approved before God? If he forgets one sin and does not specifically repent of it, can he be acceptable before God? If Brother Kilpatrick can understand how the alien sinner can stand justified before God without specifically repenting of every individual sin, then he should be able to understand how the erring child of God can be justified before God without a specific confession of every individual sin.

From this quotation, however, I think that you can see that Brother Kilpatrick believes that justification through forgiveness is insufficient to save a man’s soul. Hence, the doctrine of salvation which he is teaching is in opposition to justification through forgiveness.

Brethren who teach the grace-unity error will find no comfort in what we are saying with regard to their argument that someone using instrumental music (1) generically repents of all his sins, (2) is received of God in grace, and, therefore, (3) should be received by us in unity. Persistence in and defense of sin is far different from an inadvertent sin in which a member does not persist and for which he would never dream of offering a defense! For instance, we might inadvertently wrong a brother; obviously such “secret faults” (Psa. 19:12) cannot be listed and given a “check mark.” But neither is God’s Word a maze of secrets for the initiated with reference to sin. It is no secret that to wrong a brother is sinful. Genuine repentance of all our sins would mean that we are determined not to be guilty of such practices, that we repudiate such courses of action, and that we will not “live in them” (Col. 3:7). The New Testament pattern of worship is no secret of philosophical wisdom. Worship with instrumental music is outside that pattern; it is iniquity or lawlessness. To worship with the instrument is to live in sin (Col. 3:7), to continue in sin (1 Jn. 3:8-9), to persistently run with one foot outside the boundary line (Mt. 7:23; 2 Tim. 2:5).

The grace-unity movement with its theory of imputed obedience is not proposing unity with a brother who inadvertently errs on some occasion but who is humble and penitent about all such mistakes and who refuses to persist in them. The movement with its theory seeks unity with brethren who continue on a regular basis to worship with instrumental music, to promote the social gospel, to centralize and institutionalize the church, and to propagate premillennialism, with never a thought of penitance about such practices.

Imputation of Adam’s Guilt

To further illustrate the extent to which Brother Kilpatrick has accepted Calvinism, read the following quotation:

The question of whether or not God’s divine attribute of justice may be compromised in imputing righteousness to sinners has never bothered us too much because it is in our favor. But the idea that God would do the opposite and impute “guilt” to those who have never committed personal acts of sin does not set too well. We are inclined to ask, “How can God impute guilt to those who have never committed positive acts of sin, namely those who have not reached the age of accountability? Doesn’t sin have to be committed before it becomes accountable?”

Without the imputation of guilt upon the whole human race, there is no answer for the death of the innocent. Physical death most assuredly is a “consequence” of Adam’s sin but we cannot overlook the fact that man’s punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23) must rest upon a legal base. It is not enough to say that the death of the innocent is a mere “consequence”, for, in the absence of guilt this would make God unjust.

If we are bothered by the negative aspect of imputation, should we not be just as bothered by the positive? In other words, wouldn’t it be just as “unjust” for God to overcompensate (impute righteousness) as it would for Him to under compensate (impute sin)? If it somehow fits within the framework of God’s justice to declare righteous those who are unrighteous, then it somehow fits to declare guilt upon those who have never committed sin (Ensign Fair, Vol. V, No. 11, p. 7).

Now, I suppose that Brother Kilpatrick will tell us that the doctrine of inherited sin is not Calvinism. One thing is for sure, Kilpatrick has accepted the Calvinist doctrine of imputation in its totality.


If Brother Kilpatrick knew of a verse which said, “The perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is imputed to the believer’s account so that-God sees Christ’s perfect obedience rather than the believer’s wavering faith,” he could cite the verse and this discussion would be over. Kilpatrick has been writing about the doctrine, quoting Calvinists, and Robert Brinsmead (an Adventist who edits Present Truth) to prove what Paul never taught. If our brother knows where the Scriptures teach this doctrine, let him trot out his evidence from the Scriptures and let us examine it. Till that happens, I shall continue to label it a damnable, pernicious doctrine of Calvinists.

Truth Magazine XXII: 36, pp. 579-582
September 14, 1978