Speaking Smooth Things About . . .God’s Righteousness Versus the Imputed Righteousness of Christ

By Connie W. Adams

The ecumenical mood has caught up with us. Instead of uniformity of belief and practice, based on objective truth, the going concern is for “unity in diversity.” In an attempt to broaden the base of fellowship, a smooth, but deadly Calvinistic doctrine has been pressed into service. It opens the door for fellowship with those who advocate instrumental music, institutionalism, pre- millennialism, false teaching and practice on marriage, divorce and remarriage, and who knows what next.

The Protestant doctrine of the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the Christian, makes the grace of God an umbrella to cover sins of “weakness” and “ignorance.” Instead of working to bring all to agreement with “the faith once delivered to the saints,” a warm syrup has been poured all over us so that we can “build bridges, not fences” as some like to express it.

False Assumptions

“For the Lord promises nothing except to perfect keepers of his law” (John Calvin). “His perfect law must be vindicated by being kept perfectly in a human life” (Edward Fudge, A Perfect Salvation). But we have a problem here. Man does not perfectly keep God’s law. Ah, but Jesus did. “As Bunyan so beautifully put it, for thirty-three years Christ wove a garment of perfect righteousness to be given away” (Present Truth, April 1977, 21). Since we do not perfectly keep God’s law, and Christ did, then somehow his perfect life must be credited to us. This is the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is assumed then that the perfect life of Christ is a substitute for my sins. The truth is that his death was a substitute for my penalty.

What About Imputed Righteousness?

In Romans 4:3-8, Paul spoke of Abraham and said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Even so, when the ungodly turns to believe on him who justifies, “his faith is counted for righteous- ness.” He then quoted David who describes the blessedness of those unto whom God “imputeth righteousness without works.” “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” To impute means to credit to one’s account. Paul said nothing here about imputing the personal righteousness of Christ to man. The man to whom God does not impute sin is the one whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered.

Paul said that in the gospel is “the righteousness (justification) of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written: the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). That “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). When a sinner hears, believes, and obeys the gospel, then on the basis of the shed blood of Christ (his sacrificial death, not his perfect life) God forgives and sins are covered. To that man God does not impute sin. Why? Because his sin is forgiven, covered. He is now justified, proclaimed righteous. He has emerged from darkness into marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

But this smooth false doctrine proceeds from one false assumption to another. If Christ’s perfect obedience is transferred to our account, then it is not necessary for us to obey the gospel to be saved. Then when we sin, either through ignorance or weakness, when God looks upon us, he does not see the sin at all, but only the perfect obedience of Christ. Even though we may persist in this ignorant or weak sin, it does not matter. We are under the umbrella of grace. When that good-hearted man worships with the instrument, or supports the missionary society, or endorses church support of various human institutions through which to do the work of the church, or that sincere preacher who advocates that we should extend fellowship to those who have divorced  and  remarried  without  fornication  as  the cause of divorce, then we should not be judgmental about any of that, for God only sees the perfect life of Christ, not the sinful practice. Smooth? Yea, verily! Wrong? To be sure.


Such a doctrine eliminates obedience. Christ is the author of “eternal salvation to all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). Saul of Tarsus was to go into Damascus for there he would be told what he “must do” (Acts 9:6). We can’t even get a verse like these quoted before the charge of “legalism” pierces the air. We are told that we have just ruled out grace. Grace is the basis of our salvation. God did not offer his favor because we deserved it. But the question that has to be settled is whether or not that favor is bestowed conditionally or unconditionally. If unconditionally, then there is no escape from universal salvation. Grace is still grace when we believe and act upon what God said.

This notion denies the truth of personal accountability. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). There is not a single passage which states that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to anyone. There is no passage which says that our sins were imputed to Christ.

This doctrine falsifies the nature of man. “Man . . . by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil. . .” (The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches, by Edward T. Hiscox, 60). “The fact that man, by nature, is a sinner . . . It is an eternal principle that man, because he is man, sins” (The Grace of God, by Edward Fudge, 14, 17). Does man sin? Yes. Does he ever obey the Lord? Yes. Now, when one obeys the Lord, does that mean that he is “inclined to good” and that “by nature”? If not, why not? The truth of the matter is that God made us with the power of choice. Every time I have ever sinned, I chose to do it. Every time I ever did something right, I chose to do it. Neither the nature of Adam nor the perfect life of Christ has been imputed.

This view offers false security. It leads people to think that error is as acceptable as truth. “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). A perverted gospel is not as good as the real thing. If you think it is, then ponder Galatians 1:6-9. Those who are determined, for whatever reason, to shelter those who teach error, do them no favor and render a disservice to the coming generation. Don’t be deceived by smooth things.