The impue-what? I hope I didn’t lose you already!
You may be thinking, “Seriously? Is this a theology lesson?”
I recall in my undergrad studies, literally hating theology—I remember telling my wife how “dumb” it was. Little did I know I would receive a dual Masters, with the one of the degrees in theology. Why? Why such a drastic change from loathing it to loving it? It certainly was not the riveting textbooks, or the sessions of mono-toned lectures; no, it was the idea that everyone has a theology—they just don’t know it. Secondly, I learned some invaluable concepts about my faith in Christ, the Gospel, and the reasons why I believe what I believe. Theology literally opened up the Scriptures for me. And so, I pray that this is not some boring reading, but an engaging and Spirit-led challenge for you to grow in your faith. This post will not be exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. Its intention is to illuminate you with the doctrine of the imputation and it’s correlation with the Gospel.
So, since this will be somewhat short and precise, I only want to focus on two verses of Scripture: Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:21; these will be our springboard to launch us into what the imputation is and what it has to do with the Gospel.
What is the Imputation?
First and foremost, we begin by giving the word a more workable definition. We don’t walk around the twenty-first century talking about imputation—it sounds like someone needs their leg cut off. As well, sometimes a modern definition of a word can throw us off, which is exactly what you would find if you looked up the word imputation—as it can mean an accusation, reproach, or a charge against someone. That’s not what the Biblical doctrine means. When we talk about the imputation of Christ it is not a thing, but an event.
Just to make this easier, let’s give our word a new label, just for our understanding—let’s call this word, “counted.” Now, I don’t want you to be thinking of the word counting, in its present tense, as if it’s still happening, but at totaled sum or a calculated amount. For instance, if you needed a new TV, you find the one you like, pick it out, calculate the total amount due, and then go to the register. However, if you don’t have cash, you will use your credit card—right? Then, the amount for the TV is “counted,” on your card. But, you technically did not pay for the item—yet, but you’re driving home with it, putting it on the wall (an epic new flat screen!), and watching it—although, you have never made one payment—hence, it is “counted” as yours.
Now, let’s add to this and say that by some crazy stroke of luck, unbeknownst to you, your credit card company, feeling generous (as if), gives you a credit in the exact amount of the flat screen TV—the amount then that was once “counted” as yours, on your statement, is now nullified—meaning, you don’t own the debt, but you still get to watch the TV and possess it! Sounds great, right?
Well, this is the rudimentary concept behind the imputation. The doctrine states that Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and then put into our account, righteousness instead. Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains to the Roman Church, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Because of Adam, all of mankind has been born into sin, as Adam was the head of humanity. Rightly so, Jesus Christ, the only man to have ever defeated death, by being raised to life, conquered death and became the first-born of righteousness. All who proclaim by faith that Jesus is Lord are saved by that faith and “counted” (there’s our word) as righteous. It is not that believers are righteous, but that they are “counted” as righteous, or declared righteous by God, through the work of Christ.
“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
The penalty for the sin of man then was grievously put upon Christ (2 Cor 5:21; c.f. Col.1:14; 2:14-15), while His righteousness was placed upon us, or put into our account. The analogy of the flat screen is applied to show that while we did not pay the penalty for our sin, it was paid by Christ; while we possess righteousness, it is not our own, but His.
What Does the Imputation Have to do with the Gospel?
Paul’s letter to the Roman Church carries a continuum of thought from the beginning. He begins chapter one by acknowledging that all of mankind knows about God, but suppresses the truth (1:18). They either have a moral law written upon their hearts (2:14-15) or possess the written Law (ch.2). Then, Paul “levels the playing field” leaving no man righteous or justifiable of sin before God (ch.3); meaning, no amount of works can declare any man righteous before God. Paul then continues his argument founded upon on righteousness based on faith for both Jews and Gentiles—excluding works, providing examples of Abraham’s faith and righteousness (ch.4). Paul proceeds by examining justification by faith (a one-time action of Christ) and then accordingly, he finally addresses the imputation of sin by one man Adam, and the imputation of righteousness by one man, Jesus Christ (ch.5). Moreover, Paul shocks his Jewish audience in 5:20, by stating that the Law came into existence to increase transgression, to show that grace “super-abounded” hyperperisseuō.
Grace. This is not some word which merely means that we’re off the hook or that God loves us, or that we no longer endure judgment, but Paul’s illustration paints a picture that all of humanity—whether with the law in their heart (knowing it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie, etc.) or by the adherence of the written Commandments, no one is justified by their actions; no one has an excuse as to whether or not they’re a sinner—the law (in the heart or written) proves to all of us that we are in need of a Savior and not only for salvation, but the need to be washed from the sins, so that we can come into union with a holy God. This is where the Gospel and the imputation intersect. Without the grace of the Gospel, which tells us that we all were sinners and that none of us came to faith in Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit, and then the imputation—that teaches us that man’s works are not capable of bringing us into union with a holy God—we see that they must be united and simultaneous acts—both of God.
The fact that God grants grace and that God alone gives us the ability to be declared righteous is something which should place us in awe of a great and loving God. To think that not only God’s desire was to save sinful man, but also to declare him righteous by placing Him in unity with His beloved Son, shows us an incredibly intelligent and amazing Creator. The Gospel and the imputation express that God wants relationship with His creation—His people. That God would pull the sin from man’s account, nail it to the cross (Col.2:14) and place it in Christ’s account, then in the same fashion, take Christ’s righteousness and put it into the believer’s account (2 Cor 5:21) is far from this human mind to understand all of the complexities, but I do comprehend its worth and grace. Thanks be to God for His love, mercy, and relentless pursuit of sinners. Thank God for the Gospel. Thank God for the imputation—so that I can have fellowship with Him.