As the Ankle Bracelet Gets Itchy

Discussions of the doctrine of imputed righteousness often act as though the whole momentous subject swirls around a mere handful of texts, and as though the doctrine is not assumed in virtually everything Scripture says about the relationship of a holy God with sinful man. It reminds me of how geologists can find evidence of local floods all over the world but the idea of a global flood is an alien concept to them.

For those who accept the basic doctrine of the sinfulness of man (establishing the need for justification) and the existence of a holy God (establishing one who justifies), there are only two basic directions you can go. You can either assume that justification occurs as God infuses righteousness into us, or you can believe that it occurs as the result of righteousness being imputed, credited, or reckoned to us as a forensic act.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church takes the former position.

“The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chapter 3, Article 2, Section I)

The quotation at the end of this citation is from the Council of Trent. Justification is understood to be the remission of sins (which the Westminster Confession also affirms), but is also described as the renovation of the inner man. When a man “accepts” righteousness from on high, he is accepting it into himself.
Westminster agrees with the part about forgiveness, but everything else is radically different.

“Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God” (WCF 11.1)

Note that the issue is not whether there is a renovation of the inner man, which all serious Christians believe, but whether that renovation is to be understood as our justification. And of course, it cannot be.

For the Protestant, justification is a declaration in a courtroom, and it is the just declaration of “not guilty,” pronounced over a very guilty sinner. Now how this is possible — how God can be both just and the one who justifies — is vindicated by the high wisdom of God, and it is vindicated by means of imputation. If we succeed in dismantling the concept of imputation, we find at the end of the day that we have dismantled our only possible hope of salvation.

If the “not guilty” pronounced over me consists of my state of sanctification in “the interior man” (which is very imperfect indeed), then this means that my justification is at best a work in progress. But I don’t need a work in progress — I need a definitive declaration, and to be told by the bailiff that I am free to go. Anything less and I am not actually justified. I am just on probation, walking around town being followed by a censorious parole officer, and the ankle bracelet is starting to itch.

The prisoner in the dock who hears the words of the gospel is a man who hears a glorious “no condemnation” in the first words of Romans 8. Later on in that chapter, he is the same vindicated defendant who is now able to throw taunts at all the lawyers in the prosecutor’s office who are trying to dig up additional dirt on him. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33).

The reason I can be declared not guilty without God Himself ceasing to be just is because God reckons me to be represented fully and completely by my Head, the Lord Jesus. Not only so, but He represented me in the condemnation that I suffered in Him, and He represents me currently at the right hand of God the Father. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This kind of thing can only happen by infusion or by imputation, and it can’t really be done by infusion. That narrows things down a bit, and we discover that the Holy Spirit has backed us into a good news corner.

There are three imputations that are an essential part of all this. The first is the imputation of Adam’s transgression to all of us. Then there is the imputation of all our transgressions to Christ. And last there is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to those who have faith in Him. Now the reason imputation works — in all three cases — is that the human race is not made up of solitary and disconnected individuals.

If we were entirely distinct individuals, then it would make no moral sense at all for God to let me go free because there was an entirely innocent guy over there, and all that was necessary was for God to kill somebody, preferably somebody innocent. This is another case of great Sunday School illustrations actually being instances of high moral monstrosities. An evil twin is hauled before the court, and his good brother volunteers to take his place on the scaffold. What kind of judge would say, “Hey, that sounds like a plan to me”?

The human race is constituted as a race. Individual persons are not like individual rocks in the driveway, but rather like individual leaves on a tree. Each leaf can be made out distinctly, but anybody who seeks to understand leaves without reference to the tree is not following the path of wisdom. So when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, the whole human race was there, and in Adam the whole human race threw itself over the precipice of sin. When Christ died on the cross, the entire new human race was represented there in Him, and when Christ obeyed God throughout the course of His life, the new human race was there, in Him, represented (justly) by His obedience. Imputation works with us because human beings are defined by imputation. Imputation is a forensic, legal and covenantal action.

God has created us as a covenantally integrated unity. This is why imputation is not an outrage — if the imputation is between a covenantal, federal head and those represented in and through him. If we tried an imputation of righteousness (or unrighteousness) between Smith there and Murphy here, everyone would be rightly appalled. You don’t impute the characteristics of one leaf to another one. Everybody knows that.

I said earlier that the textual issue is like a vast series of local floods that somehow are not seen to add up to a global flood. Here is a passage that struck me on this subject recently:

“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” (Phil. 3:9).

There are many things that could be said about this, here and elsewhere (there are many local floods), but I am interested in one phrase only — Paul says he wants to be found “not having his own righteousness.” Let us get one thing clear at the outset — if Paul is to be justified by righteousness, whose will it be? For starters, Paul says not mine.

Whatever else we say about justification, we need to fix it in our minds that we are put right on the basis of the righteousness of somebody else. There is absolute no other way to get to the liberation of no condemnation. And once we have been declared legally, forensically, covenantally not guilty, the Holy Spirit can infuse as much sanctifying righteousness as He wants, which is a great deal.

This is moral liberty — the opposite of antinomian licentiousness and the opposite of legalistic wowserism. It is a blast of mountain air after two hours in the sauna.

If you want a description of what the fruit of imputed righteousness tastes like, there is no better description than what C.S. Lewis provided:

“We want, above all, to know what it felt like to be an early Protestant. One thing is certain. It felt very unlike being a ‘puritan’ such as we meet in nineteenth-century fiction. . . In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construction made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs directly out of a highly specialized religious experience; and all its affirmations, when separated from that context, become meaningless or else mean the opposite of what was intended . . . All the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place . . . He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines orginally sprang” (C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 32-33).

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jay niemeyer
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jay niemeyer

Wow. Just… wow. Beautifully said.

timothy
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timothy

Thank you pastor.

antexw
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Doug, I think you are committing an Either-Or fallacy when you write: You can either assume that justification occurs as God infuses righteousness into us, or you can believe that it occurs as the result of righteousness being imputed, credited, or reckoned to us as a forensic act. Instead it seems that (according to what God has revealed in Scripture), we ought to more accurately believe that justification occurs as God infuses righteousness into us as the righteousness of God in Christ is being imputed, credited or reckoned to us as a forensic act. Paul writes that when he does… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

So, it isn’t a one time forensic declaration then — but ongoing?!

What turns most of us off about the courtroom scene analogy is that we see ourselves walk out unchanged on the inside.
It’s a thing they did on that side of the bench — it’s on paper only.

But when you add the element that my highpriced Lawyer walks out with me, and stays with me — even back to and into my stinky apartment; then up into heaven itself … well … there you’ve got something.

RFB
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RFB

Eric,

Not only that, but your High-priced Lawyer also completed the legal adoption process so now you also walk out as legal heir to the entire Kingdom, and when you walk back to your stinky apartment, you know these are just temporary digs, and He has hired a Professional Cleaning and Renovation Crew to get it ready for you to move into your Father’s palace.

Robert Moreland
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Robert Moreland

About two months ago I began reading NT Wright’s ‘Paul, and the faithfulness of God.’ I got about half way through the book, then one night as I was sitting on my couch God put it into my head to pick up Paul Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress.’ It was a favorite of mine when I first came to Christ. As I sat on my couch reading Bunyan, it hit me like God’s aluminum bat to the head “Man, how much am I giving up when I give up imputation?” I read Bunyan for about 20 minutes, my heart was filled, and… Read more »

Dave
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Dave

Eric and RFB: Amen!

timothy
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timothy

Off-Topic. Sam Steinmann’s comment on the With Arms Quivering post has been bothering me for a bit. Mr. Steinmann commented: “I think it’s important to note that the sin of Sodom was not (per Scripture – Ez. 16:49) sodomy, but “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Mr. Steinmann’s interpretation bothered me because I had always ‘assumed’ the common knowledge of why Sodom and Gomorrah had been judged. I asked God for guidance and here, several weeks later is the result.… Read more »

Rob kennedy
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KN
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KN

I think this misses out a key aspect of the Catholic position, which is that our interior righteousnesses is the righteousness of Christ. The Council of Trent taught that the formal cause of justification, i.e. what justification actually is, is the justice of Christ, but not that whereby He himself is just but that whereby He makes us just. So the Catholic position is that grace is simply to share in the life of Christ, and thus to have His justice, so we are justified inasmuch as we share in that, and not by mere declaration. But what God counts… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

A couple of thoughts on this post: “You can either assume that justification occurs as God infuses righteousness into us, or you can believe that it occurs as the result of righteousness being imputed, credited, or reckoned to us as a forensic act.” I don’t believe either of these is biblical. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” and “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

John Barry —

How about we make a distinction between righteousness given vs imputed/reckoned?

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

KN,

Would you want to say that His righteousness becomes assimilated or incorporated into our being — becomes the substance of now our righteousness?

If so — that is what Doug is arguing against.

KN
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KN

Christ’s righteousness certainly is infused into our being, surely all Christians must accept that, for to have grace is to be ‘partakers of the divine nature’. The question, as Doug says, is what the ground of our justification is, whether it be a declaration before we become ‘partakers’ or the fact that we are ‘partakers’, which latter is wholly a gift of God which no man can merit. To take one bit of Scripture, Romans 8:1-4 seem to me to favour the latter view – ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Westminster says that God does not justify by “imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness….” This strikes me as flat contrary to what is so clearly and simply stated in scripture: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” And, “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 for our justification.” How do we get from God counting faith as righteousness to God infusing or giving someone His… Read more »

antexw
Member

John Barry, First of all, regarding what you wrote about the WCF striking you as flat contrary to what is so clearly and simply stated in scripture: I think here in WCF faith or the act of believing itself is denied as a BASIS of justification, where the basis according to Scripture (Ro 4:25) is Christ’s resurrection after his perfect and holy atonement for our sin. The WCF does later teach what Ro 4:3,9,22,23,24 teaches in that the MEANS of our justification is by/through faith. Again, the thing the WCF would have us watch out for in being true to… Read more »

Clayton Hutchins
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Clayton Hutchins

Doug – Great stuff here. I was wondering though, with relation to the Future of Protestantism thing that came up a while ago, how you think we should view the Catholic Church? Are they a true church–erring brothers who we are one body with? Or are they a false church since they officially reject justification by faith alone, which is equivalent to the Galatians heresy?

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian, You’re distinction between basisand meansis helpful. I didn’t see “basis” in the excerpt Doug quoted. It sounded like it was addressing means. I don’t know that I understand your reply to my question regarding shifting from God’s reckoning one’s believing as righteousness to God infusing His or Jesus’ righteousness into someone. I confess that when I read someone label something as “mystery”, “mysterious”, or “the secret things of God”, I can’t help but wonder how the writer is able to distinguish the mysterious from the non-mysterious, or is able to identify the secret things of God. What exactly is… Read more »

antexw
Member

John, I bracketed your sentences as shown below in my response. [What exactly is the “infused righteousness” you speak of? Is it the Holy Spirit given to the believer?] Righteousness is rightness, the set of qualities for something to be right or morally good. Obeying God is rightness or righteousness. In this case of infused righteousness, I mean the righteousness of a person is the state of that person’s rightness in the sense of absence of guilt or moral pollution in their disposition (i.e., absence of love of darkness/sin in turning away from God per Jn 3:19). The notion of… Read more »

antexw
Member

John, Please note the below clarifications presented in order of how they were originally written in my immediately previous comment to you. “Such infused rightness is the work of the Holy Spirit through faith, but it itself being impersonal {i.e., not a person} is not the Holy Spirit, who is Himself a person (using the ‘is’ of identity in this sentence)” should be read/understood as “Such infused rightness is the work of the Holy Spirit through faith, but it {i.e., the rightness} itself being impersonal {i.e., not a person} is not the Holy Spirit, who is Himself a person (using… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

Paul tells his readers in Romans 6: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

But you say Paul is speaking of his present state when he says in chapter 7: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”

Was Paul the only one who had not been set free from sin?

antexw
Member

Sorry, John; another one! Located at the top of the third to last paragraph (in my 08 Oct at 0220 comment): “Paul does employ an inter-passage temporal distinction in writing how he ‘now no longer’ is the one doing/practicing evil as he now joyfully concurs with the law since in the past (note the contrasting past tense of Ro 7:17-13) — prior to his present experience passage …” was meant to have been written with its Scripture reference as “Paul does employ an inter-passage temporal distinction in writing how he ‘now no longer’ is the one doing/practicing evil as he… Read more »

antexw
Member

John, The present intrapersonal distinction that Paul gives still easily and abundantly answers this next question of yours without having to rely on the temporal extra-textual eisegetical distinction you’ve invented, suppressing/replacing the present tense that God did reveal in the text. (Sincerely, I hope you are presently not having an ethical problem of not wanting to understand/accept what God has revealed through fair/proper exegesis.) The short answer to your question is that the Christian in his inner man that “concurs with” (Ro 7:22) and “is a slave to” (Ro 7:25; cf. 6:18) God’s law is set free as slave to… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian, I acknowledge that Paul writes a section of Romans 7 in the present tense. Taking this in the larger contexts of the full letter to the Romans, all of his other letters, and the rest of the New Testament, I conclude that he cannot be speaking of his present condition or experience. Paul says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” If this describes Paul’s ongoing present experience, what business does he have telling the readers of his letters to live holy lives, leave… Read more »

antexw
Member

John, [Paul says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” If this describes Paul’s ongoing present experience, what business does he have telling the readers of his letters to live holy lives, leave off sinning, etc.? He’d be as big a hypocrite as I could imagine.] Paul’s ongoing present experience of practicing the evil that he does not want, would not make him unrepentantly hypocritical (Sure there’s a sense where all sin/evil is done in a moment of hypocrisy against one’s better knowledge, but I… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

hypocrite – a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

antexw
Member

John, Since we don’t have any Scripture that explicitly or implicitly teaches that Paul never knowingly practiced sin/evil after stating his beliefs about living a holy life (and thus never fulfilling the definition of hypocrisy you stated above), then we don’t have any warrant to: 1. Dismiss (as a Scriptural contradiction) interpreting Ro 7:14-25 (per its prima facie apparent use/teaching of the present tense) as Paul’s present experience of practicing evil via the sin that indwells his flesh while writing Romans and/or 2. Substitute an eisegetical interpretation of that text so that we believe in a Paul with a character… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian, In 1 Cor 4, Paul writes: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

Where is the evidence in Paul’s life and letters of your exegesis of Romans 7? Thanks be to God there is none!

antexw
Member

John, [So will you say, “Okay, so maybe Paul didn’t do wrong to any of the Corinthians, but he sure must have wronged, corrupted and taken advantage of the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. because, after all, he is a SLAVE OF SIN, continuing to do the evil he doesn’t want to do.”? {my emphasis}] 2 Cor 7 is not an absolute claim that would imply that Paul never wronged anyone, and therefore would imply that Paul never sinned. His involvement of not wronging anyone is thus limited to some temporal and/or qualitative scope, but it is arbitrary to define that… Read more »

antexw
Member

John,

When I wrote, “… meaning than Paul not being a “SLAVE TO SIN” in the sense of Ro 6:17 — note my emphasis …” I meant to write,
“… meaning than Paul not being a “SLAVE OF SIN” in the sense of Ro 6:17 — note my emphasis ….”

There may be some other instances where ‘slave to sin’ should read ‘slave of sin’.

antexw
Member

John, More errata: 1. “… but it is arbitrary to define that scope in such a way so as to believe Paul must have therefore not ever been practicing any evil when he wrote Romans to interpret it as his present experience” was meant to convey “… but it is arbitrary to define that scope in such a way so as to believe Paul must have therefore not ever been practicing any evil when he wrote Romans as an attempt to justify not interpreting Ro 7:14-25 (or more precisely, Ro 7:14-24a,25) as his present experience.” 2. “Furthermore, Christ calls believers… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

I don’t think we’re getting anywhere re Romans 7.

I reread your initial response to my question regarding imputed righteousness. That is, how we get from the clear, simple statement of God’s reckoning or accounting Abraham’s believing as righteousness, and reckoning or accounting our believing in God as righteousness (cf Romans 4) to the idea that God infuses, imparts or gives His or Jesus’ righteousness to someone.

Your answer was unclear to me. Can you explain this in a couple of sentences, or cite the scriptures used to support the idea of God infusing or giving His or Jesus’ righteousness to someone?

antexw
Member

John, The infusion of righteousness concept is reviewed compactly in syllogistic form (0. – 7. below). 0. Prior to being born again with faith in Christ, we have unrighteousness (sin/evil/lawlessness), loving darkness in hostility to God(‘s Law) (Jn 3:3,19; Ro 8:7). 1a. After we are born again, the person in the sense of his inner man does not sin “it is no longer I am doing it, it the sin which indwells in me, that is in my flesh” (Ro 7:17,18), but rather now the inner man concurs with God’s Law per Ro 7:22) (vs. being in hostility not able… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

Can you cite a few scriptures showing that God infuses his own or Jesus’ righteousness into someone?

John Barry
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John Barry

Truth can be shortly stated. But where a writer is wrong, a wealth of words is needed to veil the deformity.

(Adapted from a quote from Thucydides, Peloponnesian War.)

antexw
Member

John, I already cited for you such specific Scripture references to support infusion. Now, I don’t think I can directly show in any one verse of Scripture the doctrine of the infusion of the righteousness of God for the believer. But, I do believe that I can show this doctrine indirectly as a deduced conclusion from a set of propositions based on Scripture as I did in my comment posted at 1:10 PM earlier today, already citing some specific Scriptures (upon your request) for these various propositions/notions. In case that comment or its syllogism of (o. – 7.) propositions seemed… Read more »

John Barry
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John Barry

Brian,

Thank you for the clarification. I am reminded that, as with most theological differences, so this one stems from interpretations of certain scriptures by the parties that are at odds with one another.

And in this case, I also don’t agree with some of your premises.

In any event, may the Lord spur you on to (continue to) do right.

For “He who does right is righteous”.