Imputation is a glorious part of our salvation. Through imputation, God credits us with the complete and untouchable righteousness of Jesus Christ. His obedience is reckoned as ours. There are times and places in our lives where we are invited to imitate Him in this—imputation occurs in every wedding, for example.
But there are many other times where we think we can accomplish something by imputation, and we really cannot. Chief among these would be our tendency to impute motives to others. We know what they did, and we know that we don’t like what they did. We also know what our motives would have had to have been in order for us to do something like that. And so we “impute motives.” We don’t know why they did that, and the only reasons that occur to us are nefarious.
Often the energy of our response comes, not from the fact that we disagree, but rather from the fact that we have come to assume that we are fighting the forces of evil. But in many instances, the “forces of evil” were things that we made up in our own heads, in our own imaginations. When we impute motives to someone with whom we are in conflict, the reason the conflict escalates so quickly is that our imputation of motives is transforming the nature of the conflict. The problem is not their sin, but rather our own.
This is a bad approach everywhere, but it is particularly troublesome in marriages and in families. The family provides the close quarters, and the differences between men and women provide the inability to understand the motives of the other, and the sin provides the illusion that you do understand the motives of the other.
This is what it looks like. “If I had done that, my motives would have been thus and such. So and so did thus and such. Therefore his motives are what mine would have been.” This is a bad business, guaranteed to generate conflict. And unnecessary conflict with those you love is not what you want.