Imputation Is NOT an Experience, but Results in Hearing the Gospel

The Holy Spirit does not impute Christ’s righteousness, so we cannot refer only to the Holy Spirit in the “application” of the accomplished atonement. Even though there is no justification apart from regeneration and faith, the righteousness of Christ has priority over the work of the Spirit, and legal imputation is not the work of the Spirit.

Romans 4: What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him unto righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is imputed unto righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not impute his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was imputed to Abraham unto righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

Some translations of Romans 4 and Genesis 15:6 decide that “as righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. But that difference does not explain why imputation happens or what is imputed.

Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see imputation as the declaration of something (without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed and why is God imputing “it”?

Many “Reformed” folks now tell us that imputation is without any transfer, that it only means declaring that certain folks are in the covenant or in the church. In this way of thinking, “it is imputed” simply means that God declares people just without talking about how and why they got that way.

God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your offspring there will be one who will bring in the righteousness for the elect alone required by the law.

The “it” which was imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Abraham’s seed Jesus Christ for the elect alone.

Romans 4:24-25 “IT will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised up for our justification.”

1. Christ and His death are the IT. Faith is not the IT. Christ and His death are the object of faith. But Christ and His death are the IT credited by God. This legal application of the accomplished atonement is not done by the Holy Spirit.

2. We can distinguish but never separate Christ’s person and work. Also we can distinguish but never separate Christ’s death and his resurrection. Thus also we can distinguish between imputation and the work of the Spirit. The Spirit gives faith but faith is not imputed. Faith in the gospel is a result of imputation.

3. God imputes according to truth. God imputes righteousness as righteousness! a. The righteousness counted as righteousness is not our righteousness (not our works of faith) but legally “transferred” to us when Christ marries us, so that what is His is still His but now ours also. b. Justification is not only the righteousness, but the righteousness imputed to the elect.

4. Imputation therefore means two different things. One, the transfer, the legal sharing of what belongs to another. Two, the declaration. God is justified, declared to be just, without transfer. God is imputed to be just because God is just.

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6 Comments on “Imputation Is NOT an Experience, but Results in Hearing the Gospel”


    the death of Christ as satisfaction for specific sins, and the imputation of that death
    are two different things

    this is different from a salvation conditioned on faith, even if that condition is met by God’s gift of faith, unless this gift of faith was purchased by the death of Christ itself

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Roger Olson, Arminian—I have heard many Calvinists say that when they are asked when they were saved they say “The moment Christ died on the cross.” That is not true Calvinism. According to Calvinism, Christ’s death secured their salvation; it did not then save them. (John Piper is very careful to use that language but many of his followers miss the distinction and go on saying they were saved when Christ died on the cross.)
    Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it shows why it is wrong (inconsistent) for a Calvinist to pray for someone to be included among the elect but (possibly) not wrong (inconsistent) for them to pray for someone to be saved. Salvation is conditional. A prayer for someone’s salvation can be a “foreordained means to a foreordained end.” God foreordains that someone will pray for an elect person’s salvation and that prayer becomes an instrumental cause (not efficient cause) of God sending his effectual call through his Word into that person’s life resulting in faith and justification.
    But election is something entirely different. Calvin, anyway (and I would argue all true Calvinist theologians), described election in such a way that no prayer could possibly effect it even instrumentally. It is an eternal decree of God “within himself” not dependent on anything outside himself about who will be saved.
    Many Calvinists came here and posted comments claiming that there is no reason why a Calvinist could not pray for someone to be elect. Many of them equated “election” with “conversion” or “salvation.” That’s false to true Calvinism.
    Of course, if all they mean is that any person can express a wish to God, that’s true. But I assume the Calvinist pastor who said he prays for God to include his son among the elect did not mean that. He means that he hopes his prayer will somehow effect or contribute to God’s decision to elect his son. If he did not mean that, then he was simply confessing that his prayer is wishful thinking only and not true petition.
    My advice to Calvinists all: “Drink deeply at the wells of Calvinism or drink not at all.”


    Some teach that being sure that you have true faith is clinging to a
    “perceived internal work” and the solution to this is what? They want an “objective justification” of all the elect at one time, 1. But justification does not happen apart from faith. So the “objective justification” folks want to say that I sound like the Arminians, since I do not believe that I was justified before I was born.

    2. They don’t want to check to see if they are looking to Christ because that would be looking to some internal work in themselves. And who knows, the people right now who are obviously not looking to Christ, who knows, they might be already justified, already imputed with Christ’s righteousness, but as yet with no resulting life in new birth.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    For Luther, justification by faith does not refer to faith as that which receives righteousness, but rather as the righteousness itself that God gives to the believer through the gospel.
    For Luther, faith is what truly fulfills the law of God. By ascribing to God truthfulness, faith fulfills every divine demand, according to Luther Unlike Calvin, Luther does not speak of faith as something empty in and of itself. For Luther, faith is the righteousness of a Christian.
    Luther’s argument that faith is the righteousness depends on a distinction between commands and promises, a distinction that would later be formulated in terms of law and gospel. I agree with that distinction between law and gospel, but I still (with Calvin at this point) reject the notion that faith is the righteousness, because Christ’s death (not faith) satisfies the law. The law requires either perfect obedience or death. Not both.
    Faith is not perfect obedience. Faith created in us by the gospel is not perfect obedience. Christ’s presence in us is not perfect obedience.
    Faith in Christ’s death is not the same thing as Christ’s death. The object of faith is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the righteousness. The object of faith is not Christ’s presence in us.

    Of course I reject Melanchthon’s reject of the bondage of the will and endorsement of synergism, but I do agree with Melanchton (and with Piper vs Seifrid) in making it clear that faith is NOT the righteousness.

    Luther is more Augustinian on the bondage of the will, but also more Augustinian in his view of justification being Christ in us (not what Christ works in us, as in Augustine) but nevertheless on faith in us, as Christ in us, as therefore the “alien righteousness” IN US.

    By 1543 Melanchthon locates righteousness in Christ and affirms that faith is merely an instrument that grasps Christ, and, as such, is intrinsically unworthy in itself: . . . we are righteous by faith, that is, through mercy for the sake of Christ we are righteous, not because faith is a virtue which merits the remission of sins . . . . Therefore we do not say that we are righteous by faith in the sense that this is a worthiness of such great power that it merits remission, but in the sense that there must be some instrument in us by which we lay hold upon our Mediator who intercedes for us, and on account of whom the eternal Father is favorable toward us. Melanchthon, Loci Communes 1543 (trans. Preus), p 109.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice: A Theology for Everyday Life— I am simply saying that ‘ecclesiology’ is unimportant to me. It is low on my list of theological values (225).

    “To have no ecclesiology is to have an ecclesiology” . That is, thinking little of the church is still a view of the church. Such a view, though, stands in sharp contrast to the proliferation of conferences now focusing on the church’s mission, what the church isn’t doing, what it has got to do, and especially, on discerning the church’s missional strategy in a post-Christendom culture. Having no ecclesiology allows the everyday Christian to focus instead on what ought to capture his or her attention, namely, the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In a theology of everyday life our focus turns to the head of the church and away from “a grim ersatz thing carrying the image of Christ but projected onto human nature and therefore intrinsically self-deceived”

    We need an “ecclesiology of suspicion” (228). This ecclesiology rejects the idea of the church as “original sin-free zone” and limits the church’s authority. “A systematic theology of grace is, in respect to church, irreducibly Protestant” (228). No ecclesial form holds ultimate authority. It is Christ who is over churches and the Spirit who moves. Church is at best the caboose to grace.. Ecclesiology, on the other hand, makes church into the engine (228). The church stands with the world under the law and ever in need of grace,.

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