Is Imputation Only a “Legal Ceremonial Pasting On”?

Don Fortner: “I heard a man say, with regard to Christ being made sin for us. ‘It is a legal matter.’ When I heard that, I shook my head in disbelief. Is it possible for a person to see nothing mysterious, nothing wondrously mysterious about the Son of God being made sin for us? Immediately, I thought of our Savior’s words in Lamentations 1:12. — “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me,
wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”

Fortner: “The fact is the word translated “made” in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 means precisely that — ‘mysteriously, wondrously made, made in a profoundly mysterious way that is beyond explanation. ‘ It is not a legal (forensic) word. Our Lord Jesus was wondrously, mysteriously, profoundly caused to be sin for us, that we might be made (in the experience of grace) the righteousness of God in him.

Fortner: “Traditionally, it is said that Christ was made sin by imputation. I have said that myself; but that is not really true. The Word of God never says that. Our Lord Jesus was not made sin by imputation. The Scriptures forbid the possibility of that (Proverbs 17:15). Our sins were imputed to him because he was made sin. There is no place in this Book of God where a legal (forensic) term is used with reference to Christ being made sin.”

Mark McCulley: Proverbs 17:15 says “he who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

Fortner: “It is certainly true that our sin was imputed to our Savior. Had it not been imputed to him, he could never have suffered the wrath of God for our sin. But he was not made sin by imputation.

Mark McCulley: Sin was imputed, Mr Fortner agrees. But according to Fortner, that was only later, and that didn’t make Christ a sinner. But something did, and when that something did, then Christ was wicked actually and really, and then because He was wicked actually and really, then God could and did condemn Christ as wicked….

Fortner:”Our sins were justly imputed to him because he was made sin for us! The Book of God does not say our sins were pasted on him in a legal, ceremonial way.

Mark McCulley: According to Fortner, imputing sin is only declaring that Christ is wicked after “somehow” Christ was made wicked. Though nobody defines imputation as “pasted on”, it’s more convenient for Fortner to describe it that way than to talk to a real person who believes in the imputation of sins. Though nobody equates “ceremonial” with “legal”, it serves Fortner’s purposes to make that equation instead of trying to defend his indefensible explanation to a real person.

Fortner: The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” The Scriptures do not say he was treated as though he were sin. The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” The Word of God does not say he was accounted a transgressor. The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” And the Holy Spirit does not here say that he was made a sin-offering. The Book of God says, “He hath made him sin for us!”

Mark McCulley: 1. The book did not say made or “become” either, because there is a need to translate into English and interpret. But Fortner assumes that words must mean what he thinks they mean. 2. I agree that II Cor 5:21 does not say that Christ was made a sin-offering. The sin-offering is a result of Christ being legally imputed with the sins of the elect.

But I don’t only agree. I have a reason (an argument for why) I think it’s not sin-offering. “Made sin” is parallel to “become the righteousness”. Christ was imputed with sins, and the elect are imputed with righteousness when they are justified. But of course Fortner does not allow this parallel, because he assumes that “made” is not legal and because he assumes that “become” is not legal.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that Fortner’s hope is not Christ bearing away the guilt of the elect. To him that is not actual or real enough. That would only be ceremonial (legal). To be saved by imputation would be pasting on something, and not a real something inside you.

Explore posts in the same categories: imputation

Tags: , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

16 Comments on “Is Imputation Only a “Legal Ceremonial Pasting On”?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Two simple questions for “more than legal” guys.
    1. if Christ is made sin before our sins are imputed to Him, then with what sin is Christ made sin?

    2. if Christ is already made sin before our sins are imputed to him, then what’s the purpose of God then also imputing the sins of the elect to Christ at that point?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Justification is not only a matter of knowledge communicated and revealed to us but is real and objective in God’s mind. We really were born under the wrath of God, and it’s not only that we think so. And that’s what we need to tell lost people: not only that they need to be born again, not only that they need to know something (both those things are true) but also that imputation is so real and so legal and so objective before God that when Jesus Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, that meant that Jesus Christ really had to die in time and space for those sins.

    History is not pretend, not a show. History is God’s actions. And even though justification is not an act God does in the elect sinner, justification is nevertheless an act that has effects in reality so that when God declares a ungodly person to be righteous, the result is life and all the other blessings of salvation.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Robert Letham—I will focus my comments on chapter 4, which addresses the question of what kind of humanity the Son of God assumed. The thesis is that for Christ to identify with us in our fallen condition, it was necessary for him to have a fallen human nature. By assuming humanity in its fallenness he redeemed it from where it actually is, otherwise he could not have saved us in our actual state as fallen human beings. This is akin to the teachings of Edward Irving and Karl Barth, as well as Torrance.

    There are a range of problems with the claim. At best, it entails a Nestorian separation of the human nature from the person of Christ. The eternal Son—the person who takes humanity into union—is absolutely free from sin but the assumed humanity is fallen. If that were to be avoided, another hazard lurks; since Christ’s humanity never exists by itself any attribution of fallenness to that nature is a statement about Christ, the eternal Son.

    The authors do not consider biblical passages that tell against their views. Romans 5:12–21, crucial for understanding Paul’s gospel, is not mentioned. If Christ had a fallen human nature it is unavoidable that he would be included in the sin of Adam and its consequences. In short, he could not have saved us since he would have needed atonement himself, if only for his inclusion in the sin of Adam.

    The authors state that Christ assumed flesh “corrupted by original sin in Adam” (p. 116, italics original). He took a humanity “ruined and wrecked by sin” (p. 119), “corrupted human nature bent decisively toward sin” (p. 121). He healed the nature he took from us (p. 117). In this they acknowledge that a sinful nature and original sin are inextricably linked and that Christ himself needed healing. Such a Christ cannot save us for he needed saving himself.

    Christ’s healing of human nature happened from the moment of conception (p. 121–22). He was without sin. Thankfully this obviates the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph but simultaneously it destroys the argument for it means Christ’s humanity was not entirely like ours after all.Christ does not identify with us to the extent of being a sinner, has “a peculiar distance” from our own performance, does not follow our path, and has an “estrangement from us” due to his obedience (p. 122–23).

    Throughout, the authors oppose the idea that Christ took into union a nature like Adam’s before the fall. However, this is not the only alternative. Reformed theology has taught that Christ lived in a state of humiliation, sinless and righteous but with a nature bearing the consequences of the fall in its mortality, its vulnerability and its suffering—but not fallen. Furthermore, the NT witness is that the incarnation is a new creation, the start of the new humanity, not a re-pristinization of the old. Christ is the second Adam, not the first.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Sam Storms–Reformed theologians have not always agreed on what this imputation entails. Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 2:149-256) defines imputed sin as consisting simply of the obligation to satisfy justice, i.e., the exposure to punishment on account of Adam’s sin (the reatus poenae). John Murray (Imputation), in contrast to Hodge, argues that the reatus poenae, or obligation to satisfy justice, may be imputed only on the grounds of a logically antecedent culpa or demeritum. He concludes his response to Hodge by noting that “Reformed and Lutheran theologians [historically] did not conceive of the reatus of Adam’s sin as imputed to posterity apart from the culpa of the same sin. And this is simply to say that the relation of posterity to the sin of Adam could not be construed or defined merely in terms of the obligation to satisfy justice (reatus poenae) but must also include, as the antecedent and ground of thatreatus, involvement in the culpa of Adam’s transgression” (p. 84).

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Tiessen is not merely for “incorporation, but against “imputation”

    Although Jesus “knew no sin,” in accordance with what Reformed theologians call the “covenant of redemption,” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Here we see the core of the doctrine of incorporatedguilt and incorporated righteousness.

    [Protestants have tended to speak of imputed guilt and righteousness, and our intent has been good, but I think the choice of terminology is unfortunate. It implies an externality which prompts people to question why one person should be accounted guilty for the sin of another {Adam}, or accounted righteous for the righteousness of another {Jesus}, as though some sort of external transfer was the mechanism at work in such accounting. But I believe that the more biblical way of speaking is incorporation

  6. markmcculley Says:

    those who equate imputation of righteousness with righteousness
    make Adam and history irrelevant
    preach Christ, they say, and don’t bother about Adam
    it does not matter if Adam really existed
    it does not matter if there was a real sin in history that is imputed
    it does not matter how Christ was made sin
    and whatever “propitiation” might be, there is no before or after to propitiation
    Christ was born justified
    just preach Christ, the living person in you, they say
    forget Adam, because if Adam was elect, Adam was born justified
    forget Abraham, because if Abraham was elect, Abraham was born justified
    forget faith, forget history, only just preach Christ, they say

    • markmcculley Says:

      Sadly, many (including Joyce Meyer) who talk about “imputed righteousness” are not at all talking about the fact that a. only the sins of the elect were already imputed to Christ or b. that the death of Christ was only for the sins of the elect.

      Many use the language of “imputed righteousness” but do not define the righteousness as Christ’s death for a definite elect people. Some only refer to Christ’s infinite general fund of law-keeping, and others don’t relate “imputed righteousness” to God’s law in any way.

      Philippians 3: But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them —-in order that I gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness FROM GOD based on faith

      The FROM GOD righteousness EXCLUDES our works (after we are justified, our works enabled by the Holy Spirit). Amen. I wish that every preacher who teaches this truth would go on to define the righteousness from God. Is that righteousness from God EXCLUSIVELY the death of Christ or does that righteousness from God include his circumcision, his water baptism, his acts of obedience to the Mosaic law?

  7. markmcculley Says:

    What we are talking about is the “value” or the “merit” of Christ’s death, an objective thing which God legally transfers.
    But most people who define “the righteousness” as Christ’s Lawkeeping rather than (or in addition to ) “law satisfaction by death” are people who don’t really think there is any “merit ” in the death. So they look for merit somewhere else, either in God’s faithfulness or Christ’s faith (or God’s faith in Christ) or something else.
    new perspective: “Christ Himself is our righteousness. There is no objective thing out there called the righteousness of Christ, but it is Christ Himself the person who is our righteousness
    a preacher soundbite “It was not enough that our sins were imputed to him. His death on the cross was much, much more than a legal matter.”
    Some of these preachers say that justification is transferred to Christians but deny that objective righteousness is transferred to Christians because they say that “righteousness not a substance or a gas or a liquid or a solid or a thing”——
    Even some of the preachers who oppose the idea that “made sin” is about corruption, continue to focus on the ‘spiritual death” of Christ and not on guilt transferred (Christ under condemnation for the sins of the elect) ).
    Their view of “spiritual life” is not about a transition from condemnation to lasting legal life of the age to come , but instead on being given a “deep rooted change of heart instead of a mere mental change.”
    Instead of a repentance from the false notion that many people who don’t know the gospel are already justified, their focus is on a repentance involves a change of mind that is so powerful that it reaches the whole person ( mind, the affections, and the will—the inner man and not merely the intellect) Instead of confessing that “I was still in my sins, under law to God”, this view focuses on “something different and more than knowing some doctrine we did not know.”
    Instead of passing from a state of condemnation to a state of justification, this view defines salvation as a change of heart that results in us feeling our sins and competing with each other about who is the worst sinner.
    But if sin is only corruption, and not objective guilt, then righteousness also is not objective, and not something which can be imputed in time. And if righteousness cannot be imputed in time, then Christ’s death as satisfaction of law for imputed sins cannot be the most important thing. Instead. the focus will be on Christ “being forsaken by God in his time on the cross”. (p 49)
    Preachers who think that all the elect have already been justified in Christ are preachers who find it quite difficult to think of any of the elect having ever been condemned in Adam

  8. markmcculley Says:

    One of the problems is that there is not enough “Christ Done Died”

    Romans 8
    how will God not
    also with Christ
    grant us everything?
    33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
    God is the One who justifies.
    34 Who is the one who condemns?
    Christ Jesus is the One who died,
    but even more, has been raised.
    Christ also is at the right hand of God
    and intercedes for us.
    35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

    Many of the Plymouth Brethren claimed that what Christ DID was not the righteousness, but instead that the righteousness was being united with the risen interceding Christ. They rejected Christ’s death as satisfaction of law as the righteousness.

    In Gaffin, Christ’s present resurrected person is our righteousness, and since Christ is still interceding for us, His righteousness is not yet complete, and our justification supposedly has a “future aspect based on works done in us by God.”

    Darby -we are accepted according to His present acceptance in God’s sight,…being held to be risen with Him, our position before God is not legal righteousness, but His present acceptance, as risen…, and we are accounted righteous according to the value of His resurrection [J. N. Darby, Collected Writings, vol.14, p. 250].

    see also Justification in the Risen Christ, by Charles Stanley of Rotherham, of the Plymouth Brethren (or From New Birth to New Creation, complied by R.A. Huebner, pp.37-38)
    the Plymouth Brethren sound bite: His death for atonement —but Him (his person resurrected) for righteousness

  9. markmcculley Says:

    some “sovereign grace” preachers quote CD Cole—“Election is not the cause of anybody going to hell, for election is unto salvation (2 Thessalonians 2: 13). Neither is non-election responsible for the damnation of sinners. Sin is the thing that sends men to hell, and all men are sinners by nature and practice. Sinners are sinners altogether apart from election or non-election. It does not follow that because election is unto salvation that non-election is unto damnation. Sin is the damning element in human life. Election harms nobody.”
    Those who refuse to give explanations like to have their cake and also eat it. On the hand, they like to reduce salvation to God’s sovereignty and equate election with justification ( and don’t talk about Christ obtaining righteousness by being imputed with guilt). But on the other hand, when it comes to explaining the non-salvation of the non-elect, these same preachers don’t want to talk about God’s sovereignty but only about God’s justice.
    But guilt is not enough for destruction, because you also have to be non-elect. The elect are also born guilty in sin, under the wrath of God, but all the elect will pass from guilt to justification. But these preachers deny that the elect are ever guilty, and they minimize any idea that Christ was imputed with the guilt of the elect, and in that way obtained righteousness for the elect (not seeing “merit” in death) And yet these same preachers deny that non-election is any factor in some sinners not being saved.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Erich Phillips explains heresy in Christology,—Paulson interprets the communicatio idiomatum not as God the Son sharing in human nature, but sharing in human sin (92). He interprets the Patristic dictum, “What was not assumed cannot be healed,” in the same willfully twisted way: “what Christ assumes from sinners is their sin” (103). As if I wanted my sin to be healed! No, I want to be healed of my sin! That is what the dictum actually means.

    How could Christ make a fitting sacrifice of Himself , if taking Human Nature meant taking Original Sin? Paulson’s two great errors flow together in his treatment of the Atonement, and the result is nothing short of appalling. How did Jesus save us? By breaking the Law Himself: Christ goes deeper yet into flesh to take our sin and acknowledged sins as his own, that is, he confessed them. This is like a man whose son has committed a crime, and out of selfless love the father steps in to take the punishment, but then goes so far that he irrationally comes to confess this crime so vehemently that he believes he has committed it—and as Luther famously said, “as you believe, so it is.” …

    Paulson teaches that Christ came to believe that his Father was not pleased with him, thus multiplying sin in himself just like any other l sinner who does not trust a promise from God. …Then finally in the words on the cross, “My God, my God…” Paulson teaches that Christ made the public confession of a sinner, “why have you forsaken me?” Confessing made it so, and thus Paulson teaches that Christ committed his own, personal sin

    Paulson—-Christ felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him (“This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased”). Christ committed his own, personal sin.”(104) That’s exactly how Paulson defines Original Sin in another part of the book: “It is to receive a word from God in the form of a promise, and then to accuse God of withholding something of himself—calling God a liar” (152). Paulson defines sin as against grace, not as sin against law.

    And how is this supposed to work salvation for sinners, that the spotless Lamb should join them in the mud? Paulson says that by identifying so deeply with human beings as to take their sin and actually experience the act of sin, He confessed not just that He was a sinner, but that He was every sinner, the only sinner. The result of this confession, for some reason, was that “once the Law accused Christ, it looked around and found no other sin anywhere in the world and suddenly, unexpectedly, when Christ was crucified, its proper work came to a halt” (110). It is not clear at all by what principle this works. It seems a bizarre and inadequate theory to prefer to the Substitutionary Atonement taught in the Lutheran Confessions, but this is what Paulson means when he says that Christ “fulfilled the law

    Click to access Paulson-Review-E.-Phillips.pdf

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Don’t look for Bible for any of this stuff

    Traditionalist —Christ didn’t suffer eternally. Jesus also was not annihilated. So in either case, Jesus’ punishment does not equally demonstrate the punishment of the wicked.While I do not holistically disagree with the conclusion, I also do not fully agree with the premise.

    Jesus experienced God’s wrath for us on the cross. The punishment was not solely death, but suffering God’s wrath

    Jesus should have died long before He hung on that cross because of the way He was beaten. But because He was sinless, and had not yet had sin imputed and placed upon Him the body He had was not yet ready to die.

    Why would Jesus have to experience the Father’s wrath if the punishment is truly realized in His death as some teach?

    It was only after sin was was imputed and laid upon He that He could cry, “It is finished!” And this was before he died physically. Jesus was able to endure sufficiently God’s wrath.

    Because of who Jesus was, just one tiny drop of blood spilled from an open wound inflicted upon Him would have been sufficient to save infinite legions of depraved sinners. He could have just had His throat slit like the lambs of the Old Testament. He could have had a swifter execution. But instead He chose one of the most excruciating death, with torture.

    Jesus was more than a substitute. He was THE Surpassing Substitute.. He didn’t just suffer a little of God’s wrath, but endured as much as was necessary to appease and satisfy His justice as a propitiation for our sins. And this was still infinitely more than He deserved. He endure more suffering, more pain, more sorrow, more agony not because of how long He was on the cross, but because He was on the cross!

    The punishment was not exactly what we should have received in its duration. But it was way more than we’ll ever experience, because He was innocent. This finite duration of punishment was of infinite value. in a finite amount of time

  12. markmcculley Says:

    he person, not His doctrine or His righteousness—where have I heard tht before? The crucial difference between Luther’s image and the Catholic view of “infused righteousness” is that for Luther the thing infused is not substance or habitus but a Person.

    “Word” appears to mean the living and eternal Word of God, which comes to dwell in the soul of the believer. While medieval theologians conceived of grace as a substance or created gift, Protestant theologians taught that grace is simply the favor of God toward sinners, expressed in His self-giving to His people and in His many accompanying gifts. Grace, the Reformers insist, is one not multiple, and grace has a location, a name, and a human face—the face of Jesus. Jesus is the righteousness of God in Person, and when He dwells in us we are justified.

    Luther continues to offer similar explanations of the gift of righteousness in justification in later treatises. Luther insists, for example, that Jesus is the grace of God:

    Christ is God’s grace, mercy, righteousness, truth, wisdom, power, comfort, salvation, given to us by God without any merit on our part. Christ, I say, not as some express blind words, “causally,” so that he grants righteousness and remains absent himself, for that would be dead. Yes, it is not given at all unless Christ himself is present, just as the radiance of the sun and heat of fire are not present if there is no sun and no fire.

    Luther extends this into a doctrine of deification:

    We are so filled ‘with all sorts of God’s abundance,’ which is in the Hebrew manner as much as saying that we are filled in all ways in which he makes full, and, full of God we are showered with all gifts and grace and filled with his Spirit, so that it makes us courageous and illuminated by his light, and his life lives in us, his beatitude makes us blessed, his love awakens love in us. In short, that everything he is and can do be in us fully and affect us vigorously, so that we become completely divine, not having a piece or even a few pieces of God, but all abundance. Much has been written about how man is to become divine. . . . here the right and closest way to g
    et there is shown so that you may become full of God, that you may not be lacking any piece, but have everything all together, that everything you say or think, everywhere you go, in sum: that your whole life be completely divine.

    In all these quotations, Luther differs from the medieval Catholic doctrine not in the location of justifying righteousness, but in the nature of that grace

  13. markmcculley Says:

    Don Fortner–Gnosticism is the teaching that salvation is arrived at by acquired knowledge, not by divine regeneration. This philosophy of vain deceit denies that the believer is given a new nature by the Spirit of God, denies that righteousness is imparted and that we are made partakers of the divine nature in regeneration. . Gnostics vainly imagine that they are the spiritually elite, that they are the only ones who have true, saving knowledge. They look upon those of us who believe God’s revelation of himself in his Word and trust Christ as our Wisdom as well as our Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption as ignorant people, without spiritual understanding. In essence, Gnostics are people who, as Paul puts it, who know “Christ after the flesh,” by mere carnal reason, which is to say they are people with religious knowledge who are totally void of spiritual life

  14. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Fortner insists that it means ‘named’ here and is referring to the actual act of formal adoption as sons in eternity: The word that is translated called in Romans 8:28 means “invited, summoned, or selected.” But that is not the word translated “called” used in
    Romans 8:30 and 2 Tim 1:9. The word translated “called” in these verses means “named, made to bear a name, or saluted by a name. In old eternity the Lord God called all His elect the sons of God, and named us as His sons. [New Focus, Vol. 9 No. 4, p8] His argument is thus: ‘called’ in Rm 8:30 means ‘named’ and is speaking of the adoption that took place in eternity, therefore all these items occurred in eternity past.
    This is simply untrue and very bad scholarship.
    • The verb Kaleo, the noun klesis and the adjective kletos are closely related, the latter
    two being derived from the verb and all derived from the root word kal.
    • 2 Timothy 1:9 actually contains both words.
    • Fortner’s definition of kaleo in Rm 8:30 ignores the primary sense and emphasises the secondary sense, failing to mention that the overwhelming use in the KJV is ‘to call’.
    • Fortner is trying to make a great difference between two Greek words, one of which
    (v28) is the adjectival form and the other being the verb form (v30) of the same basic word.
    • The ‘calling’, mentioned in Rm 8:30, is a calling that occurs in time. This is the overwhelming exegesis of almost every sound scholar. Even Gill doesn’t use this approach.
    • This being the case, justification, which follows calling, also occurs in time.

    Click to access The%20Controversy%20Over%20The%20Doctrine%20of%20Eternal%20Justification.pdf

    He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them. (Num 23:21) Some theologians use this verse as support for an eternal justification that is complete. Even Hoeksema gives this impression, using this verse and Rm 8:29-30 in Reformed Dogmatics, p.502. Speaking of a sinful Israel, God’s son, the verse suggests that God sees no sin in him. But, although prompted by God, the word comes from the apostate Balaam. Yet a greater difficulty is that this is not what the original says. The LXX is closer to the original Hebrew when it states: There shall not be trouble in Jacob, neither shall sorrow be seen in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, the glories of rulers are in him.

  15. Billy Says:

    i agree with Mark McCulley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: