Imputation, The Transfer is Legal Union With and Because of that Christ Died
The Bible sometimes has imputation without transfer. For example, Psalm 106: 30-31 tells us that “Phinehas stood up and intervened and the plague was stayed and that was counted to him as righteousness.” Nobody replaced Phinehas or did his killing work for him, nor is the idea that something not really righteous got counted as righteous.
God counted Phinehas killing the two people as righteousness because it was righteousness, not to justify him but as sufficient cause to stop the plague against Israel. The story of Phinehas is not gospel, because it has no transfer to or from Jesus Christ.
God is righteous always and God imputes righteousness for what it is.
The Bible also has imputation, and transfer, and still no gospel.
When the sin of Adam is transferred to every human person (not when they are teenagers but when they are born), this transfer of guilt is not good news. God does not transfer the guilt of Adam to us because we are united to Adam in sharing the same nature.
United to Adam by his guilt transferred to us, we share Adam’s nature. To make the union something prior to the guilt keeps begging several questions. Unless we know that a transfer of guilt is unjust, we have no reason to define our union with Adam in metaphysical terms about the organic essence of the one and the many.
Transfer of guilt is union, and results in depravity and death. This depravity is not for the elect alone, because the guilt of Adam is not for the elect alone.
The gospel has a glorious transfer , but It is not a transfer of depravity. Christ was not imputed with the depravity of the elect, but with their guilt. Even though depravity is part of the punishment for imputed guilt, Christ was not imputed with depravity but with guilt.
Even though many Calvinists focus on the supposed “spiritual death” that Jesus experienced in the three hours before He died (see Michael Lawrence in It Is Well, or Harold Camping, or W. E. Best), the Bible itself never says that Christ Jesus experienced depravity, not even for three hours. Christ Jesus bore the guilt, the sins of the elect. The result of that was death.
The entire human race is now born guilty and depraved in nature. Christ was born truly human but not depraved. He did not have to be depraved to be human. Nor did He have to be guilty to be human. This means that Christ can be and was imputed with the guilt of the elect alone, and not with the guilt of the non-elect.
I do not know for sure when this guilt of the elect was transferred. Because of Christ’s lifelong suffering, I tend to agree with Smeaton that God transferred the guilt at His birth. Surely that guilt was not satisfied though until Christ died on account of the sins of the elect.
But what we can say for sure is that not only punishment for guilt, but that guilt itself was transferred to Christ. The gospel talks about election, because the gospel talks about Christ bearing sins.
Isaiah 53:5 speaks of the punishment which brought us peace. But Isaiah 53:6 also tells us that “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us.” The servant Christ bore not only punishment but also iniquity.
There is no biblical reason to isolate three hours of existential agony from all the rest that Christ suffered. As God uses Satan to cast out Satan, God can and does use sin against sin. We do not have to look for something direct and without the involvement of humans.
God ordained specific sinners to sin against other specific sinners. And God ordained specific sinners to sin against the One who had been imputed with the sins of specific sinners. Using the power of the nation-state-empire, God punished Christ who was legally charged with all the sins of the elect alone. This is not unfair. It is good news but only for the elect.
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