IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS: The Grounds of Our Righteousness

By Mike Willis

During the course of the discussion in recent years pertaining to the unity-in-diversity method of fellowship, brethren have begun to examine anew the grounds of our salvation. Though the discussion has been profitable to me, I am saddened by the fact that I see several of my brethren accepting the doctrines of Calvinism, such as the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account. Too, I see them making charges that those who state that obedience to Christ’s commands is necessary for salvation are guilty of legalism. Such manifests an ignorance of what legalism is and an inaccurate knowledge of the grounds of our salvation.

Those who have been writing in defense of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account seemingly are only able to see two methods of salvation: (1) justification by works (perfect obedience to the law of Christ) and (2) justification by the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account. Those who do not believe in the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account are charged with being guilty of believing in salvation through perfect obedience. To them there is no alternative to believing in the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account except the alternative of salvation through perfect obedience.

There is, however, another alternative: justification through forgiveness. The one to whom the Lord will not impute sin is the man whose sins have been forgiven. Read what Paul wrote in Rom. 4:6. 8.

“Just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Notice that this passage states that the man whose sins have been forgiven is the one who is righteous. The man who stands justified because his sins have been forgiven does not stand justified on the basis of works. Indeed, justification by works demands perfect obedience to the law; because the man who is justified by works has an obedience which is perfect, he does not need forgiveness. Hence, justification through forgiveness cannot be considered justification through works. He who so charges does not understand justification by works!

The ground of one’s salvation is Christ’s blood. The man who is justified through forgiveness depends upon Christ’s blood to wash away every transgression of God’s law which he has ever committed. There can be, therefore, no dependence upon the works of man for salvation; one’s salvation is through the grace of God. God gave us that which we did not deserve-forgiveness of sins; consequently, we’ can stand justified by grace through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

The condition for receiving forgiveness of sins is different from the ground on which forgiveness of sins rests. The grounds for the forgiveness of sins is God’s grace as manifested in the sacrifice of Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of man’s sins. However, one receives the benefits of Christ’s blood conditionally. (If one receives the benefits of Christ’s blood unconditionally, the doctrine of universalism, the belief that all men will eventually be saved, is true since Christ died for all.) The conditions which the alien sinner must meet to obtain the forgiveness of sins are as follows: faith (Heb.

11:6), repentance (Acts 2:38), confession of faith in Christ (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9-10), and baptism (Acts 2:38). The conditions which the erring Christian must meet to have his sins forgiven are as follows: repentance (Acts $:22), confession of sins (1 in. 1:7.2:1), and prayer (Acts 8:22).

(The man who teaches that the Christian’s sins are forgiven unconditionally is logically compelled to accept the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Either one of two things is true: (1) either the Christian’s are remitted conditionally or (2) the Christian’s sins are remitted unconditionally. If they are remitted unconditionally, the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is true. If they are remitted conditionally, those conditions must be met before the Christian’s sins are remitted.)

There is nothing meritorious in salvation when one teaches that sins are forgiven conditionally. If a rich uncle left me a million dollars upon the condition that I walked down a road backwards for one mile, I would not think that I had earned that million dollars by walking down that road backwards. Rather I would understand that I had to comply with some conditions to receive the grace of that rich uncle. Similarly, the meeting of conditions to receive the benefit of God’s grace in no way implies that man has earned his salvation. The charge of “salvation by works” which some make against baptism for the alien sinner or repentance, confession and prayer for the erring Christian applies with equal force to “faith.” If baptism is a work whereby an alien sinner earns his salvation or if repentance, confession and prayer are works whereby the erring Christian earns his salvation, then so also is faith! God’s salvation is graciously given to the sinner conditionally. The meeting of these conditions is not “salvation by works”; rather, it is salvation by grace!

When a man’s sins are forgiven, he stands righteous before God. He stands righteous before God because there are no sins laid to his charge. His sins have been forgiven, so he stands before God as if he had lived a perfect life. He is not regarded as perfect because Christ’s perfect obedience has been imputed to his account. Rather, he stands perfect before God because his sins have been forgiven. Justification comes through forgiveness which comes to us through the precious blood of Christ. He who charges that this is salvation by works knows nothing of what the Bible means when it speaks of salvation by works!

The Perfect Obedience of Jesus

What part, then, does the perfect obedience of Jesus play in God’s plan for saving man? No one can deny that Jesus lived a perfect life and that His perfect life was necessary for our salvation. However, the part which His perfect life plays in our salvation is so;nething altogether different from the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the believer’s account. Here are the things which Christ’s perfect obedience did:

1. It qualified Him as a sin offering. The Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29) was in many respects exactly like the lamb offered on the altar during the Mosaical period. The animal offered to God during the Mosaical period had to be one without blemish (Lev. 4: 23, 28). Similarly, Jesus had to be a Lamb of God without blemish. Peter wrote, “. . . knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Similarly the writer of Hebrews mentioned that Christ “offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14). Hence, His perfect life qualified Him as the perfect sacrifice for sins. Had Jesus sinned, He could not have atoned for Himself, much less for others. His perfect life qualified Him as the perfect sin offering.

As the perfect sin offering, He has the ability to save others. Again, the writer of Hebrews said, “. . . although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:8-9). Through the sacrifice on the cross, redemption was made for His people. “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that- time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:11-14). Notice that the writer shows that the one offering of the Lamb atoned for the sins of the people. There is no mention of the perfect life of Christ covering anyone’s sins; rather, the Scriptures teach that the sacrifice of the Christ atoned for the sins of the people. His perfect life only qualified Him as the perfect sacrifice.

2. It made Him a perfect example to follow. 1 Pet. 2:21-24 holds out the perfect life of Jesus as an example for us to imitate. This passage makes no mention of the perfect life of Jesus covering our sins; rather, it holds forth Jesus as an example to be emulated in the same way as other passages hold forth other faithful men to be imitated.

If there is any passage in all of the Scripture which implies that the perfect obedience of Jesus is applied to the account of the believer, I wish that someone would show it to me. I can read of Jesus’ perfect life qualifying Him as the perfect sacrifice and of His perfectlife being used an an example for imitation, but I cannot read of the perfect obedience of Jesus being applied to the account of the believer to cover his sins of ignorance and weaknesses of the flesh.


The reason why brethren are propagating this doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the account of the believer is that they are searching for some theological basis to have fellowship with brethren who refuse to repent of their sins of introducing instrumental’ music in worship, perverting the mission of the church into recreational areas, distorting the organization of the church through the sponsoring church arrangement, and supporting human institutions from the church treasury. Consequently, they have resorted to the Calvinist doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus to the believer’s account. They apply this to the sincere man attending the Christian Churches and liberal churches among us. They say that God will not see the sins of using instrumental music, supporting human institutions, involving the church in recreation, etc. because He sees instead the perfect obedience of Christ. Consequently, God will save those who are involved in these sins even though they never repent of them or ask the Lord to forgive them for practicing these things. However, if we are going to enjoy sweet fellowship with these brethren in heaven, we should go ahead and enjoy it on earth. Therefore, these brethren are teaching that we should fellowship our brethren involved in these sins because the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to them to cover their sins.

My brethren, this is a false doctrine borrowed from Calvinism designed to give some theological justification for fellowshipping brethren who are involved in supporting, defending, and propagating sin! Those who .are true to the Lord cannot be guilty of bidding “Godspeed” those who are guilty of sin. Consequently, we need- to mark those who are propagating this doctrine to stop the spread of this gangrene among us.

Truth Magazine XXII: 7, pp. 115-117
February 16, 1978