“So important is eternal life that the Bible gives us many illustrations so that no one will miss the message. To the farmers, Jesus talked about soil and seed. To the shepherds, He talked about sheep. To beggars, He talked about a great feast that God had spread. To lawyers, He talked abut justification. To the housewife, He talked about a coin that had been lost and had to be found. But when you use the word ‘imputation,’ you find God speaking to the banker, because it is a financial term . . . . Our English word ‘imputation’ comes from the Latin word which means ‘to reckon, or credit, to one’s account.’ When you go to the bank or the savings and loan association and deposit money, imputation takes place. They deposit that on your account, and they write it on your record . . . . Right in the middle of that word ‘impute’ you have p-u-t, righteousness put to our account” (Warren Wiersbe, Key Words of the Christian Life, Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1982, pages 55, 56, 58).
On what basis did God impute or “put” righteousness on our account?
There are two different answers to this question, depending on whether you are Covenant or Dispensational.
The basis is the sufferings of Christ on the cross, according to some dispensationalists like Charles Ryrie.
“The sufferings of Christ in His death have been labeled His passive obedience in classical Protestant theology. This passive obedience stands in contrast to Christ’s active obedience which refers to the obedience exhibited during His lifetime. . . . The sufferings of Christ’s life, though real, were not atoning. . . . Strictly speaking, then, only the sufferings on the cross were atoning. It was during the three hours of darkness when God laid on Christ the sins of the world that Atonement was being made” (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1999, p. 282).
The basis is the life and death sufferings of Christ, according to Covenant theologians like Wayne Grudem.
“Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience, would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s ‘active obedience,’ while his suffering and dying for our sins is called his ‘passive obedience.’ Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, ‘not having a righteousness of [his] own, based on the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith’” (Phil. 3:9) (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zonderman, 1994, pp. 571.
Paul is contrasting works for salvation through the Law, which he kept as a sinner, with salvation through faith in Christ’s cross work. We place our faith in Christ’s death in order to receive His righteousness. Nothing in this passage speaks about Christ’s life sufferings or His active obedience in His life.
Ryrie mentions the three basic imputations in chapter 37 of Basic Theology.
A. The imputation of Adam’s sin to the race (Rom. 5:12-21).
B. The imputation of man’s sin to Christ (2 Cor.5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24).
C. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers (2 Cor. 5:21). Was this imputation based on the life sufferings or death sufferings of Christ? This is a debate today.
I will contrast the difference between the Covenant and Dispensational view in each of the three imputations.
A. The imputation of Adam’s sin to the race (Rom. 5:12-21).
Covenant View or the Representative view
In the Representative view, we did not sin in Adam, but Adam sinned and God imputed original sin to each sinner because of what our Representative did. “The conclusion to be drawn from these verses is that all members of the human race were represented by Adam in at the time of testing in the Garden of Eden. As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam” (Grudem, p. 495). In Grudem’s view God doesn’t punish us for someone else’s sin.
Dispensational View or the Seminal view
The argument goes like this: The Seminal view says that because we were in union with Adam when he sinned in the Garden that God is just in punishing each of us with death. “We die because we sinned in Adam” is Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12. “Participation is the ground of merited imputation” of sin to each sinner (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:29).
Covenant View of Origin of souls (Creationism)
Because we did not actually sin in Adam, God creates each soul depraved. “God gives each child a human soul that has tendencies to sin” (Grudem, p. 485).
Dispensational View or Traducianism
Sinful souls are inherited from parents because we sinned in Adam.
B. The imputation of man’s sin to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet: 2:24).
Covenant View: Christ was our Representative on the cross.
“God regards the human race as an organic whole, a unity, represented by Adam as its head. And God also thinks of the race of Christians, those who are redeemed by Christ, as an organic whole, a unity represented by Christ as head of his people (Grudem, p. 496).
Dispensational View:We were in union with Christ in His death on cross.
“We should not permit our use of the term ‘imputation’ to be hindered by the fact that certain schools of theology, notably the Federal school, have attached to it an arbitrary meaning—holding that God imputes sin to men, not because they are sinners, but upon the ground of a legal fiction whereby Adam, without their consent, was made their representative. We shall see, on the contrary, that (1) in the case of Adam’s sin imputed to us (2) in the case of our sins imputed to Christ, and (3) in the case of Christ’s righteousness imputed to the believer, there is always a realistic basis for the imputation, namely, a real union. (A. H. Strong, p. 594). We died with Christ at the cross(Rom. 6:6; 2 Tim. 2:11).
C. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers.
Christ’s Active Obedience or Life sufferings. The righteousness of Christ who perfectly kept the Law is imputed to believers. Christ’s Passive Obedience or Death sufferings. Sins of believers are pardoned by Christ who suffered the penalty of the broken law on the cross.
Only Christ’s death sufferings are vicarious. See discussion below.
The life sufferings of Christ are called the Active Obedience (Preceptive Obedience according to Robert Reymond in his Systematic Theology) of Christ. Christ was obedient in life.
The death sufferings of Christ are called the Passive Obedience (Penal Obedience according to Robert Reymond) of Christ. Christ was obedient in death. Reformed or Covenant Theologians like Reymond, Berkhof, and Grudem believe that the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers was based on Christ’s life and death sufferings.
“By the former (Preceptive or Active Obedience) he made available a perfect righteousness before the law that is imputed to those who put their trust in him. By the latter (Penal or Passive Obedience) he bore in himself by legal imputation the penalty due to his people for their sin. His perceptive and his penal obedience, then, particularly as the latter came to expression in his cross work, is the ground of God’s justification of sinners, by which divine act they are pardoned” (Reymond, p. 631).
Preceptive or Active Obedience of Christ’s life imputes His righteousness to us is The Covenant View.
Penal or Passive Obedience of Christ’s death pardons our sins.
The Dispensational View sees only the death sufferings as the basis of imputed righteousness.
The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers is based on Rom. 5:18, 19 and especially one phrase from verse 18: di henos dikaiomatos or as NKJV translates: “through one Man’s righteous act.” The one righteous act referred to is the death or sufferings of Christ on the cross which imputed Christ’s righteousness to believers i.e., the Passive Obedience of Christ. This is in contrast to the condemnation imputed to sinners “through one transgression” (NET) or the one act of disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:6). In other words, the imputation of righteousness to believing sinners is based on the sufferings of Christ in His death not the sufferings of Christ in His life.
Does di henos dikaiomatos mean “through one righteous act,” i.e., the death of Christ? The Dispensational View
NKJV translates “through one Man’s righteous act”
NET translates “through the one righteous act”
ASV translates “through one act of righteousness”
NIV translates “so one Man’s act of righteousness”
Does di henos dikaiomatos mean “through the righteousness of one,” i.e., the life and death of Christ?
The Covenant View
Covenant Theologian Charles Hodge translates “through the righteousness of one” and explains why the other translation is impossible: “It is inappropriate, in as much as we are not justified by one act of Christ, but by his whole life of obedience and suffering” (Hodge, Commentary on the Epistles to the Romans, pages 173, 174). In other words, because the other translation does not fit my theology.
This debate today is basically between Covenant and Dispensational Theologians as to which sufferings of Christ are redemptive.
Dr. Bowman in his notes on Soteriology or Systematic Theology III on page 7 addresses this issue.
“Christ suffered in life and in death. Were His life sufferings redemptive? Berkhof intimates that the life sufferings as well as death sufferings redeemed (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 1953, pp. 336-39).
Theologians usually go to one of two extremes. Either His life sufferings are neglected or included as a part of His redemptive work.
1. Life sufferings (Non-atoning). The theological purpose for these sufferings was to prove Christ’s love and compassion. His life sufferings are seen in the following passages (1 Pet. 2:21; Matt. 8:14-18; Isa. 53:2-4a; John 11:35; Matt. 23:37; Lk.19:41; Heb. 5:7).”
None of the verses that describe the life sufferings of Christ mention any redemptive benefit. Dr. Bowman next in his notes describes the vicarious sufferings of Christ on the cross.
2. Death sufferings (Vicarious).
“The word vicarious comes from an adjectival Latin word, vicarious, and means, one who takes the place of another, a substitute. The noun form, vicar (Latin vicaire), is used in R.C. theology of the pope who supposedly represents Christ on earth.
Theologically, Hodge defines the word thus: ‘. . . that Christ was in a strict and exact sense the substitute of his people, i.e., by divine appointment, and of his own free will, he assumed all our legal responsibilities and thus assumed our law-place binding himself to do in our stead all that the law demanded of him when he suffered the penalty due us, and rendered the obedience upon which our well-being was made to depend’ (Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Atonement, 1953, p, 390).
The word that more aptly designates the idea is substitution. Substitution will later be discussed under two prepositions: anti and huper.
Our sins were imputed to Christ on the Cross (Isa. 53:6, 12; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).
The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is related to the imputation of Adam’s sin to sinners.
Covenant Theologians say the Representative view of imputation of sin to sinners better explains the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners than the Seminal view.
The argument goes like this: In the Representative view, we did not sin in Adam, but Adam sinned and God imputed original sin to each sinner because of what our Representative did. Likewise, we did not do any righteous act in Christ on the cross to merit imputed righteousness. Because Christ is our Representative on the cross, like Adam was our Representative in the Garden, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us based on what Christ did, not what we did in Him on the cross (Grudem, pages 494, 495).
Scripture does not make this logical connection. Just because something is logical in a system of theology does not mean it is biblical. Limited atonement is logical in the system of strict Calvinism; Christ died for the elect, but the Scriptures do not teach that Christ died only for the elect: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Scripture does teach that we sinned in Adam.
So the doctrine of the imputation of sin to sinners is related to the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners.
The Seminal view says that because we were in union with Adam when he sinned in the Garden, that God is just in punishing each of us with death. “We die because we sinned in Adam” is Paul’s argument in Rom. 5:12.
We not only sinned in Adam and therefore die, but we also were in union with Christ in that we died with Him and therefore we live as the Scriptures teach: “Our old man was crucified with Christ” (Rom. 6:6). “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Gal. 2:20).
According to Paul in Romans 4:8, because the righteousness of Christ has been put on our account, sin can not be put on the same account: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
“It seems that there was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the Continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce” (Wiersbe, p. 16). Sin was imputed to each of us because we have sinned. Our sin was imputed to Christ on the cross and His righteousness was imputed to us at salvation and therefore no sin can be put on our record. There is no record anywhere in Heaven that any believer ever sinned.