"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Imputation: Yes, But What Does It Actually Mean?

In the last blog post, we addressed some glorious considerations surrounding the Father's imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, and of our sin to Christ.  We can all, I think, agree that the imputing work of the Father is indeed glorious, but it seems important to take an "at the end of the day" sort of look at what it truly means to have Christ's righteousness imputed to our spiritual accounts:  what are the practical ramifications of this mighty undertaking? 

Some will say that justification results in God's children receiving the righteousness of Christ.  In several senses, this is entirely correct:

  • Christ's righteousness is credited to our spiritual account (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Upon justification, the Spirit of Christ takes up His permanent residence in our enlived souls, and works in and through us (Phil. 2:12-13, Gal. 2:20).  This moves us firmly and wondrously into the place of posse non pecarre (the ability not to sin).
  • Justifications sets us on a path of growth in personal holiness that will continue through our lives (James 3:2, Romans 7:14-25) and culminate in sinless glory in the presence of the Lord.
Far be it from us indeed to dispute such clearly-articulated, peace-giving, and God-glorifying principles; they are heartening companions in life's foxholes.  However, this is one path along which we cannot push even one step too far - the consequences are too dangerous.  Those who force this issue further arrive at the tragic conclusion that imputation means that Christ's righteousness becomes our own in the fullest extent - it is not merely credited to our account, but wield it in life with nearly sinless efficacy.

Even if we manage to overlook clear lexical evidence to the contrary (look up dikaioo, or "justify" sometime), we can still reap a sizable harvest of concern and disappointment at these thoughts.  To those who believe that Christ's righteousness is their complete and pervasive possession, the path to obedience is not about seeking obedience to the Word of God.  Rather, it is tied closely to knowing that the righteousness of Christ is active within them, and if they can simply keep from getting in the way of the natural righteousness which Christ has placed within them, then natural obedience is the natural result. 

This may strike you as odd or silly, but this sort of mindset is pervasive.  You may have heard it said that in order to obey, believers need simply to stop getting in God's way with their own efforts to obey Him.  If so, then you have struck pay dirt.  "Don't try; just trust"?  "Let go and let God?"  There is theological fool's gold in them there hills.  It may seem an innocuous frame of mind, but let us consider three pertinent points:

1.  This point of view blasphemes Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21 proclaims, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  We see here that we become God's righteousness because Christ became sin.  If we hold that our becoming God's righteousness signifies that we were made righteous, then we are left with the unenviable task of maintaining that Christ similarly was made a sinner when He became sin.  The clear parallelism of this verse cannot be argued; we cannot suppose from these words that Christ's "becoming sin" is a different sort of "becoming" than our "becoming God's righteousness" simply because we wish to. 

Of course, to label the Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Lamb of God, as a sinner of any sort is rank blasphemy.  He became sin only in so far as He stood condemned in our place for those sins, so that we might stand justified in His place for His righteousness. 

2.  This point of view sunders our reliance upon Jesus.  If the imputation of Christ's righteousness, such that we stand justified before God, means that we are natural obeyers, how little do we need Christ in our moment-by-moment as our authority!  Natural obedience negates our need for the Word which the Spirit of Christ wrote, preserves, and illuminates.  The conviction of His Spirit is scarcely necessary if our obedience is automatically engaged merely by a passive acknowledgement of the work that Christ has already completed in us.  Ironically, I become my own authority as the righteousness of Christ is channeled into my sanctified bosom.

Rather, passages like Philippians 2:12-13 or 2 Peter 1:3-11 teach us with diamond clarity that the presence of Christ in us, working in our souls, should prompt us to strive for obedience, rather than assume its existence. 

3.  This point of view belittles the glory that Christ wishes to reveal in our lives.  The Lord has determined that His people would see His glory through the travails of life.  "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25a) "Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Cor. 12:8-9)

We see who our Lord is when we are obliged in our weakness to turn to Him.  His compassion, patience, and wisdom are clear and comforting, and we have the blessing of seeing faithful biblical truth come to brilliant life in our own hearts!  Our weaknesses are intended to humble us before Him in all of His gracious wonder, and He allows us to soldier through weakness for this reason.  It is no use to pretend those weaknesses have departed when they are still very real, my friend.

The imputation of Christ's righteousness to our spiritual accounts has given us salvation and paved the way for our growth in holiness.  It is devastating folly to conclude otherwise.  What else is there, but to humbly and gladly serve the Lord of glory?


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