Tag Archives: Imputation

The Glorious Gospel of Imputation


I love Starr Meade’s book of family devotions based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  To catechize our children during family worship, we’ve been using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds for many years.  In fact, we’re on our second copy of it — the first one just fell apart after some years of heavy daily use.

Tonight at our church catechism class, I have the joy of teaching Lord’s Day 23 again.  Lord’s Day 23 deals with justification, God’s declaration that we are right with him on account of Christ’s righteousness.  Included in justification is the crucial notion of imputation.  Our sins are imputed or accounted to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed or accounted to us.  This goes to the basis of our justification.  Starr Meade has an excellent illustration that explains the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, his obedience to the law and his suffering obedience.  I plan to use this illustration tonight with my catechism students:

Imagine that you need a great deal of money for something important.  However, not only do you not have a great deal of money; you are deeply in debt.  Along comes your friend who has worked hard for years to build a big savings account in the bank.  He feels sorry for you and offers to pay your bills.  Now you are no longer in debt.  This is something like Jesus paying for our sin by his death on the cross.  Now we no longer owe God anything for all our sins against him.

However, just because your friend paid your debt does not mean that you have solved your problem.  You still need a great deal of money and you have absolutely none.  So now your friend does something else for you.  He has your name added to his bank account so that now you can use all his money.  This is something like Jesus living a life of perfect obedience to God in our place.  He is the One who is righteous.  He is the One who did the obeying, but all his righteousness is credited to us.  God counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, 111-112)

To put it another way, through Christ we don’t merely have our slates wiped clean of all our sins.  We also have our slates filled with all of his God-pleasing obedience in our place.  This, and this alone, makes us acceptable in God’s sight.

Walcheren Articles

Yesterday I posted something about this new book, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.  In the chapter on the period of high orthodoxy, there is a paragraph about a professor at the French Academy of Saumur, Josue de la Place:

De la Place, who became professor at Saumur in 1631, developed a divergent view on the imputation (imputatio) of Adam’s sin to his descendants.  According to de la Place, the imputation was based on actual sins, which implied a “mediate” transmission of Adam’s sin.  In France, the national Synod of Charenton (1644-1645) made pronouncements on de la Place’s views, led by opposition from Antoine Garissolles (1587-1651), who was the moderator.  However, de la Place’s views also made waves outside of France.  In the Swiss Confederation they were addressed in the Formula consensus Helvetica and in the Netherlands they were attacked by Samuel Maresius and others.  However, de la Place’s view was accepted by Johannes Vlak, pastor in Zutphen, but it was condemned in the Articles of Walcheren of 1693. (153).

The Articles of Walcheren were prepared by a Dutch Reformed classis and addressed several errors circulating in the late seventeenth century.  They are difficult to find.  I have posted a .pdf containing them here.  I believe this comes from the volume edited by J. N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, Documenta Reformatoria.  Unfortunately, it’s only available in Dutch.  Article IV specifically deals with Vlak.  Article III is also worth noting for its affirmation of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in justification.  Ministerial candidates in the Walcheren classis were apparently required to subscribe this document.

Wright on Imputation

I’m currently reading By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters.  The first four chapters deal extensively with the New Perspective on Paul, and special attention is given to N. T. Wright.  Cornelis Venema, T. David Gordon, Richard Phillips and C. Fitzsimons Allison are all concerned to expose the fundamental problems with Wright on the question of imputation.  Wright dismisses imputation and for that reason he falls outside the bounds of biblical orthodoxy.  Among other things, he has argued that “the righteousness of God” refers to his covenant faithfulness in key passages such as Romans 1:17 and Romans 3:21, rather than a status imputed.  He says that there is no imputation of God’s righteousness for the Christian.  This contradicts both Scripture and the faithful summary thereof in our Reformed confessions (e.g. HC LD 23 & BC 22).

When it comes to justification (the heart of the gospel), Wright is a false teacher.  I don’t say that cavalierly.  I say that having studied Wright’s arguments and the counter-arguments.  If anyone questions that conclusion, I would urge you to get this book and read it carefully.

But the authors not only critique Wright, they also present a solid case for a faithful biblical doctrine of justification that includes getting imputation correct.  I like the way that Phillips expresses it:

Indeed, the glory of imputed righteousness is not merely that it overcomes the threat that I have looked upon with mortal horror, namely, the perfect righteousness of the divine Judge.  The glory of this scriptural truth is not mainly that it permits me to escape this praiseworthy office of God and his glorious attributes of perfect holiness, justice, and truth.  Instead, the glory of imputed righteousness is that it provides the grounds by which the Judge in his perfect justice acclaims me righteous and embraces me to his heart.  Clothed in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ I no longer fear God’s justice but I rejoice in it, for it now demands that I be entered into life with all the blessings of heaven.  God “shows his righteousness” in my justification; he is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Praise God for the gospel!  Let us believe it and faithfully defend it.

The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness: Response to Bill DeJong

My colleague next door at the Cornerstone Canadian Reformed Church, Rev. Bill DeJong, has been blogging about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  In his latest post, he quotes Hans Boersma’s Hot Pepper Corn and asserts that John Calvin “stopped short of stating that Christ’s obedience to the law was imputed to us.”  Since Bill doesn’t allow comments on his blog, I want to briefly interact with that statement here.  I want to note that this is not a settled matter.  Bill apparently follows Boersma’s reading of Calvin.  Francis Turretin had a different reading and you can find it in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 2, page 454.  It was Turretin’s opinion that “Calvin, in many parts of his works, teaches the received opinion” regarding the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.  Turretin then provides a series of quotes and references to the Institutes, as well as to Calvin’s commentaries on Romans and Galatians.  He concludes this discussion by stating that “The French Synods have repeatedly declared that the same truth should be retained inviolable…” and then quoting the Synod of Tonneinsian.  Turretin is not alone in his understanding of Calvin.  Among others, see William Cunningham’s Historical Theology (vol. 2, SWRB 1991 reprint), 54.  He finds the appeal to Calvin with regards to a denial of the imputation of the active obedience to be “without any sufficient warrant.”  It could be that Turretin, Cunningham, et. al.  are wrong and Boersma and DeJong are correct (I don’t think so myself).  But whatever the case may be no one should have the impression that Boersma’s position has always and forever been recognized as a canonical, universally accepted, accurate portrayal of Calvin on this point.

Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ — the Lutheran Edition

The other day I received this fine-looking volume, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions.  I’ve been browsing through it and becoming more familiar with Lutheran confessional orthodoxy.  There’s an extensive and helpful index at the back.  One of the interesting omissions is the word ‘covenant.’  Maybe it’s used in this volume somewhere, but it’s not important enough to make it into the index.

Another (possibly related) point of interest is the Lutheran confession of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.  In the explanatory words before article 4 of the Augsburg Confession, the editors write,

“Through his life, Jesus satisfied God’s demand for perfect obedience.  Through his sacrificial death, Jesus took God’s wrath and atoned for the sins of the world.  The Holy Spirit through the means of grace, works in us saving faith, which personally apprehends what Christ has done for us.  Our justification before God, therefore, is brought about by the one who lived, suffered, and died for our salvation.  We cannot merit God’s favour through our obedience; we cannot offer sacrifices to pay for our sins.  But what we cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us.  He is the solid Rock on which God builds His Church.  On Him, and Him alone, we stand forgiven”  (32-33).

Except perhaps for hint of a problem with the intent of the atonement, that’s beautifully stated.

Later, the Formula of Concord says the same thing:

“Therefore, the righteousness that is credited to faith or to the believer out of pure grace is Christ’s obedience, suffering and resurrection, since He has made satisfaction for us to the Law and paid for <expiated> our sins.  Christ is not man alone, but God and man in one undivided person.  Therefore, He was hardly subject to the Law (because He is the Lord of the Law), just as He didn’t have to suffer and die for His own sake.  For this reason, then, His obedience (not only in His suffering and dying, but also because He was voluntarily made under the Law in our place and fulfilled the Law by this obedience) is credited to us for righteousness.  So, because of this complete obedience, which He rendered to His heavenly Father for us by doing and suffering and in living and dying, God forgives our sins.  He regards us as godly and righteous, and He eternally saves us.  This righteousness is brought to us by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and in the Sacraments.  It is applied, taken, and received through faith.  Therefore, believers have reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, God’s grace, sonship, and are heirs of eternal life.  (538)

The remarkable thing is that this doctrine does not seem to be explicitly tied to any particular covenant theology.  Hmm….just like the Belgic Confession in article 22.