Three Steps of Imputation
Imputation means that something has been added to another’s account. The act of imputation is directed to and for man by another. In other words, man is not active–not the author–in the matter of imputation, but passive. There are three steps in imputation that we should remember.
First, Adam’s sin is imputed to us by God. As we have seen, this is because Adam was the representative head of all mankind. When he fell, all his posterity had the guilt of his sin added to their account, so that they are all liable to the punishment of everlasting death. This imputed sin is not just the corruption of man’s nature, but actual guilt that carries a death sentence with it. John 3:18 speaks of the unbeliever as being “condemned already.”
Romans 5 teaches that death reigns in us because of the sin of Adam imputed to us: “by the one man’s offense many died” (v. 15); “The judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation” (v. 16); “By one man’s offence death reigned through the one” (v. 17); “Therefore as through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” (v. 18); and “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (v. 19).
Secondly, the sin of God’s people is imputed to, or laid upon Christ. Man did not do this, but the LORD “has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (see Isaiah 53:4-12 for a picture of Christ vicariously bearing the sins of His people). In the Old Testament sacrifice, the person bringing a sacrifice had to lay his hand on the sacrifice and pronounce his sins upon it. The animal was then sacrificed as a type of the true substitute for sin, which is Christ alone. The important thing to see is that sin was symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal (Lev 17:11). In the same way God imputes our sins to His own Son, the perfect sacrificial Lamb.
It was not our sinfulness that was imputed to Christ. Otherwise He would have been a sinner. But, it was our sin, guilt, and punishment for sin–the curse of hell–that was imputed to Him. Jesus became the bearer of our sin. Isaiah 53:6 says, “and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” John 1:29 describes Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Paul says in II Cor. 5:21, “For He [God the Father] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us….” “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many,” says Hebrews 9:28. And I Peter 2:24 says about Christ: “Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree….”
And thirdly, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to His people. On the cross Christ satisfied the justice of God against the sin which he bore. As the sinless Lamb of God, He laid down His life. The only ground of our justification is in the fact that the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ becomes our righteousness before God. Heidelberg Catechism Q. 60 teaches how we are righteous before God: “Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” See also questions 61 and 62.
Arminian doctrine teaches that we are justified by God on the ground of our faith in Christ. The Bible, however, teaches that we are justified only on the ground of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness is ours only by grace through faith.
Romans 3:24,25 states, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness….” (see also Rom. 5:1, 9,19; 8:1; 10:4.) I Corinthians 1:30 states, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Christ was made sin for us, “that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (II Cor. 5:21). And Philippians 3:9 teaches, “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
We might just add here that once God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to us, He no longer imputes our actual sins to us (see Psalm 32:1,2). The reason for this is that they are already covered or atoned for by the blood of Christ. II Cor. 5:19 says, “that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them….” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity…” (Ps. 32:2).
In each case of imputation, it is an action performed by God, not man. God acts upon man–then man acts in repentance and faith, by the grace and power of God.
Questions to Ponder
- How “free” is man after the Fall?
- Is a dead man free to come back to life anytime he wants to?
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.