This post was provided by SEA member Roy Ingle.
On both sides of the Arminian and Calvinist debate is the understanding that Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to the undeserving sinner who believes in Christ alone for salvation. Arminius wrote,
Hence we likewise deduce: That if the righteousness by which we are justified before God, the Judge, can be called formal, or that by which we are formally justified, (for the latter is Bellarmine’s phraseology,) then the formal righteousness, and that by which we are formally justified, can on no account be called “inherent;” but that, according to the phrase of the Apostle, it may in an accommodated sense be denominated “imputed,” as either being that which is righteousness in God’s gracious account, since it does not merit this name according to the rigor of justice or of the law, or as being the righteousness of another, that is, of Christ, which is made ours by God’s gracious imputation.
Nor is there any reason why they should be so abhorrent from the use of this word, “imputed,” since the apostle employs the same word eleven times in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, where the seat of this point or argument lies, and since the efficacy to salvation of God’s gracious estimation is the same, as that of His severe and rigid estimation would be if man had perfectly fulfilled the law without any transgression. (2 Cor. v, 19, 21.)
Arminius further wrote,
Whether it is to be understood “that the righteousness, for which, or unto which, faith is imputed, is the instrumental operation of faith;” which is asserted by some persons. In the theses on justification, which were disputed under me when I was moderator, I have adopted the former of these opinions not in a rigid manner, but simply, as I have likewise done in another passage which I wrote in a particular letter. It is on this ground that I am accounted to hold and to teach unsound opinions concerning the justification of man before God.
But how unfounded such a supposition is, will be very evident at a proper season, and in a mutual conference. For the present, I will only briefly say, “I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law.
But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”
Whatever interpretation may be put upon these expressions, none of our Divines blames Calvin or considers him to be heterodox on this point; yet my opinion is not so widely different from his as to prevent me from employing the signature of my own hand in subscribing to those things which he has delivered on this subject, in the third book of his Institutes; this I am prepared to do at any time, and to give them my full approval. Most noble and potent Lords, these are the principal articles, respecting which I have judged it necessary to declare my opinion before this august meeting, in obedience to your commands.
You can see that even in the writings of Arminius is an acknowledgment that imputation of righteousness is not set in stone. I believe that Arminius held to imputed righteousness based on his writings but I acknowledge that some Arminians have rejected the teaching. They do so not out of ignorance of the Word of God but rather because they see the teaching as leading to antinomianism. I can see their danger.
The arguments against the doctrine of imputation are based on two main arguments. First, the argument from a logical viewpoint that the teaching leads to spiritual apathy. The logic here is that if we teach people that God no longer sees their sins because of the doctrine of imputation then why obey Christ as Lord? Why avoid sin if in fact God no longer sees our sins? What is the point of 1 John 1:9 if in fact we have the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us?
The second argument is that the Bible never says we are imputed with Christ’s perfect righteousness. The Bible says that we are righteous and they point to this as “declared righteousness.” For example, they point to Romans 3:22 as proof. Romans 3:22 reads, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” The righteousness of God through faith: they see this as declared righteousness and not Christ’ righteousness imputed to us.
Three other passages are 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and Philippians 3:9. Philippians 3:9 is the strongest text on imputed righteousness. The text reads, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” They, again, point out that Paul does not say that we have Christ’s righteousness but rather that through faith God declares us righteous.
My view is that we have both in Christ. We are both declared righteous before God because of Christ and we also are imputed with the righteousness of Christ. All of the focus in salvation is upon Christ. I have nothing in my hands to bring to God for salvation nor after salvation. I need Christ from beginning to end for my salvation. Jesus is the very One to whom I look to save me and to keep me saved (1 Peter 1:5). Before God I have no righteousness. I need Christ and His intercession (Hebrews 7:25) for salvation. I need Him standing before the Father and pleading for me. I need His Spirit to help me to turn from sin (Galatians 5:16-17). I need Jesus!
Does this matter? Does it matter if we teach imputation or declared righteous? I believe it does. If we teach only declared righteousness, I fear that our focus becomes us. We are righteous because we believed; but we also need righteousness when we fail. I do fail. I do sin. I hate my sins, but I do fall short of the glory of God, though the Bible calls me to forsake sin (1 John 2:1).
When I fail, do I lose my declared righteousness? Thus I need the righteousness of Christ. Again, I have no righteousness apart from Him. Romans 3:10-18 is clear that I am not even close to being righteous. I need the righteousness of the only perfect one to ever live. Paul even makes it clear in Philippians 3:7 that all of his own righteousnesses (which was pretty good, if the test is man) was worthless apart from Christ. Paul was willing to throw out his own self-righteousness for the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:8-11).
I praise God for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, that I am saved by grace through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that my salvation is apart from my own good works or merit (Titus 3:5-7). God is gracious in His salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.
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