By Mike Willis
Last week, I presented a rather thorough examination of the Greek word logizomai to show that there were no usages of this word which might lend support to the doctrine that the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is imputed to the account of the believer so that God overlooks his sins. I want to continue an examination of the arguments used by those who defend this doctrine in this issue.
1. God demands perfect obedience. This is one of the most frequently made arguments used by those who believe in the doctrine of the imputed perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account. “It is asserted, perhaps the most plausible plea in defense of this dogma, that nothing but thorough and perfect obedience could ever be available for acceptance before a God of infinite purity; and consequently that Christ’s righteousness, which was alone perfect, must be imputed to the believer ere he can be accepted before God” (John Henry Blunt, Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology, p. 332).
For years, Calvinists have argued for the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account using this very argument. Here are some samples of their quotations:
“I reply that `accepting grace,’ as they call it, Is nothing else than his free goodness, with which the Father embraces us in Christ when he clothes us with the innocence of Christ and accepts it as ours that by the benefit of it he may hold us as holy, pure, and innocent. For Christ’s righteousness, which as it alone is perfect alone can bear the night of God, must appear In court on our behalf, and stand surety In judgment. Furnished with this righteousness, we obtain continual forgiveness of sins in faith. Covered with this purity, the sordidness and uncleanness of our imperfection are not ascribed to us but are hidden as if buried that they may not come Into God’s judgment, until the hour arrives when, the old man slain and clearly destroyed in us, the divine goodness will receive us into blessed peace with the new Adam” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter, XIV, No. 12).
“We may summarize the point by saying that God requires of man a holy life. The justice of God’s judgment seat requires enact and perfect obedience to the divine law. Man cannot be saved unless that law be fulfilled — every jot and tittle of it.
“Says Calvin, `The Lord promises nothing except to perfect keepers of His law,’ and then, to underline the human predicament, he adds, `and no one of that kind is to be found.’ — Calvin, op. cit., Bk. 3, chap. 17, sec. 1. This is where God stepped in by providing for us a Surety (Heb. 7:22) in Jesus Christ. His righteousness consists in His perfect obedience to His Father’s law in our room and on our behalf. Not only by His blood (which atones for our offenses) but by His righteousness He reconciles us to God and presents us in the sight of divine justice as if we had kept the law” (Rather D. Brinsmead, Present Truth, Vol. VI, No. 2, p.18).
Now brethren who deny that they, in any way, have accepted Calvinism have accepted the Calvinistic doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account and are using the very same arguments which other Calvinists use to prove their doctrine. Compare the statements from John Calvin and Robert D. Brinsmead, Editor of Present Truth, with those of our brethren.
‘Being under God’s moral laws God demands right doing. Man always falls short. Hence when one understands what is imputed, put to one’s account, that one who comes to Christ in the obedience of faith will spend a life time striving to please, reverence and adore by faithful living his God. . . ” (“Even As He Is Righteous,” Arnold Hardin, The Persuader, Vol. XI, No. 15, June 12,1977).
“The law of God moat be honored and since no man does honor it perfectly some one had to come and in man’s place and on his behalf keep law perfectly. It has been correctly said that `only those are justified who bring to God a life of perfect obedience to the law of God: How is such possible? Through obedience as is taught? The Bible teaches that it is possible only on the basis of what faith does — that is — bringing to God the perfect obedience of Christ” (“Imputation of Righteousness # 4,” Arnold Hardin, The Persuader, Vol. XI, No. 11, April 3, 1977).
Anybody with his eyes open can see that (1) the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account is part of the warp and woof of Calvinism and (2) that brethren who have accepted the doctrine are using the very same arguments which other Calvinists have been using for years to prove that doctrine.
Let us consider an answer to this argument being used by the Calvinists among us. Please notice very carefully that there was no passage cited which showed that Christians are demanded to practice perfect obedience to the law in order to be accepted before God. The very absence of positive proof shows that this doctrine is not a part of God’s divine plan for salvation. Nowhere is there any evidence that God demands perfection in order to obtain salvation. The Bible does not say that we are saved by God seeing a perfect account of obedience attributed to our account. Rather, the Bible teaches that we are saved through the forgiveness which comes to us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The man who has had his sins forgiven stands before the law perfect because his sins against that law have been forgiven. He is perfect because all of the violations of which he is guilty have been removed from his account through forgiveness. This supposed proof iE destitute of any passage to sustain it and stands, therefore, contrary to the Scriptures.
2. Rom. 5:9-10. The passage reads as follows: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. ” The argument has been made that “His life” refers to the perfect obedience of Christ being attributed to the account of the believer. However, a fair examination of the context will reveal that “life” is put in juxtaposition to “death” and refers to the resurrected life of Jesus. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, there could have been no hope for salvation for any of us. He would not have been declared to be the Son of God. His death would have been a tragedy but not an atonement.
Though my brethren want to appeal to Rom. 5:9-10 to prove that the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is applied to the account of the believer, many Calvinists recognize that this passage says nothing about the doctrine of the imputing of the perfect obedience to the account of the believer. Here are some of their statements:
“The death of Jesus effected our reconciliation; all the less can His exalted life leave our deliverance unfinished. The living Christ cannot leave what His death effected without final success. This however is accomplished not merely through His intercession, viii. 34 . . . , but also through His whole working in His kingly office for His believers up to the completion of His work and kingdom, 1 Cor. xv.22ff” (H.A.W. Meyer Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 238).
“The first antithesis is between enemies and persons reconciled. The second is between Christ’s death and his life. If a dying Savior can effect the reconciliation of enemies; much more can a living Redeemer do all that is required to the complete deliverance of his friends” (Wm. S. Plumer, Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, p. 203).
“If even the death of Christ has such a saving efficacy, how much more His risen life, which triumphed over the realm of death and hell. . .” (J. P. Lange, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, p. 167).
“His enemies triumphed and rejoiced over him on the cross, and in the tomb. Yet the effect of this feeble, low, and humiliating state was to reconcile us to God. If In this state, when humble, despised, dying, he had power to accomplish so great a work as to reconcile as to God, how much more may we expect that he will be able to keep us now that he Is a living, exalted and triumphant Redeemer” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, p. 119).
Calvinist commentaries recognize that this verse offers them no support. However, some of my brethren still think that Rom. 5:9-10 is a proof text for the doctrine that the perfect obedience of Christ is attributed to the account of the believer.
3. Rom. 5:19. “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Calvinists generally apply this verse as a proof text for the idea that the perfect obedience of Christ is applied to the account of the believer. As I stated before, this is their theological justification for the belief in “once saved, always saved:” However, the context contains a contrast between Adam’s one act of disobedience and Christ’s one act of obedience. Notice the contrast:
|1. Through his sins many died (v. 15).||1. Through his death many are made righteous (v. 15).|
|2. Through one act of disobedience condemnation came to all men (v. 18).||2. Through one act of obedience justification came to all men (v. 18)|
|3. One man’s disobedience made many sinners (v. 19).||3. One man’s righteousness made many righteous (v. 19).|
We can easily understand Adam’s one act of disobedience; it referred, not to his life of sin (i.e., all of the sins which Adam ever committed), but to his one act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden when he ate of the forbidden fruit. Similarly, Christ’s one act of obedience refers, not to His total life of perfect obedience to God’s law, but to His one act of obedience on the cross. (For other passages which refer to this act of obedience, see Phil. 2:8 and Heb. 5:8-9.) Though Calvinists generally appeal to this verse as proof of their doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account, the comments of Moses E. Lard more than offset their arguments:
“But in regard to the `obedience,’ the agreement is not so general. Some would make it refer to the Incarnation. But this, though an important fact, is too remote to be meant here. Others would make the reference to be to the whole of Christ’s fife. This is too general; and, besides, it does not pointedly enough antagonize the single `disobedience’ of Adam to which it is opposed. The true reference in the ‘obedience’ is, I am confident, to the death of Christ in offering himself as a ransom for the world” (Commentary on Romans, pp. 188-189).
Furthermore, if we are going to make “obedience” refer to the entire life of Christ in order to apply it to His record of perfect obedience, we are going to have to be consistent and apply “disobedience” to the entire life of Adam and in some way let it mean that all of Adam’s sins affected all of humanity. A more consistent interpretation of this passage is this: the one act of disobedience refers to Adam’s one sin in the Garden of Eden and the one act of obedience refers to Christ’s one act of obedience in dying on the cross.
4. 1 Cor. 1:30. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” The New American Standard Bible might be interpreted to have reference to Christ’s perfect obedience inasmuch as it reads, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption . . . .” However, the Greek phrase translated “by His doing” in the NASB is ex autou; it cannot be twisted to imply that Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to the account of the believer. This phrase simply asserts that our salvation originates from Christ. Furthermore, the reference to righteousness later in the verse has no reference to the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account. If the reference to righteousness proves that Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to the account of the believer, then the references to wisdom, sanctification, and redemption must mean that Christ’s wisdom, for example, is applied to the account of the believer in the same way. Am I to believe that when God looks at me, he sees, not my imperfect wisdom, but the perfect wisdom of Christ applied to my account? If the reference to Christ’s righteousness means that Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to the account of the believer, then the reference to Christ’s wisdom means that Christ’s perfect wisdom is applied to the account of the believer. If not, why not?
5. Heb. 7:22. “. . . so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (the King James Version uses “surety” where the New American Standard Bible uses “guarantee”). I fail to see how one can derive the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the account of the believer from the one word “surety” or “guarantee.” The very fact that this verse is appealed to is evidence of the grasping for straws used in order to support this false doctrine by those who believe it. Check the various commentaries for the true meaning of this passage.
There are one or two other passages used to defend the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the account of the believer. However, these are the main ones which have been used in defending and propagating this false doctrine. As you can see from this examination of these passages, the evidence falls short of affirming what is claimed for it. It does not teach that Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to the account of the believer.
Furthermore, let me remind our readers why this is having to be discussed in the first place. We have already seen that Calvinists use the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the account of the believer to give theological justification for their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (“once saved, always saved”). My brethren want to use this doctrine is a different way. They do not believe in “once saved, always saved” (they are inconsistent in the application of their doctrine). However, they want to use the Calvinist doctrine to cover the sins of the baptized believer in order that they can fellowship every baptized believer regardless of what doctrines he is teaching; They believe that Christ’s perfect obedience is transferred to the believer and therefore God does not see that brethren are involved in using mechanical instruments of music in worship, supporting human institutions (schools, hospitals, and orphans homes), perverting the organization of the church through the sponsoring church arrangement, premillennialism, etc. Hence, God is going to save these brethren who are engaged in these sins because the perfect obedience of Christ has been applied to the account of these believers. `The next step is this: if we are going to live together in sweet fellowship in heaven, should we not also be in fellowship on this earth? Consequently, those who are teaching the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account are using this as theological justification for fellowshipping brethren who are teaching and practicing sin who refuse to repent of their sins. My brethren, that is why I am taking the time to critically examine this false doctrine.
Truth Magazine XXII: 5, pp. 83-85
February 2, 1978