It was Not Our Imputing that made Christ Die
Before we jump to the redemptive historical complexity of union and identification with the death (when are the elect in Christ by imputation? 2000 year ago? Before or after faith?), we need to focus on Christ’s death to sin.
Does “Christ’s death to sin” (Romans 6) mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed by the Holy Spirit? God forbid. Does it mean that Christ was carnal but then infused with the divine and became a partaker of the divine nature? Again, God forbid. Does it mean that Christ by being in the environment of the old covenant needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid.
What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.
Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. The gospel is not about just about God justifying, but also about God being just and justifier.
Liberals say that it’s not forgiveness if God had to pay for it. Arminians say it’s not justice for God to condemn a person without giving Jesus to die for that person, and that Jesus has done that, so now God can justly condemn those who won’t accept it.
A lot is written about imputation these days. A lot of it‘s Arminian or Lutheran talk of an exchange made by the sinner’s faith. Little is written about the imputation of Adam’s sin, but even less about God’s imputation of sins to Christ. I think at least part of the reason for the silence is that “ministers” don’t want to talk about whose sins are imputed or when they are imputed. (See for instance, the new book by southern baptist Vickers)
This is not the time to think through the timing. (Even when we agree with Owen’s use of impetration, where sins which have been imputed to Christ are still imputed to the elect until their justification, we still have the question if imputation logically immediately precedes or follows faith.)
But if we content ourselves with saying that the sins of “believers” are imputed to Christ, we not only avoid the good news of election but also (by lack of antithesis) contribute to the evangelical consensus that the efficacy of Christ’s death depends on believing.
The gospel tells how believing is the effect of the cross. The gospel tells us which Christ is the object of believing (the Arminian “Christ” is an idol and a lie).