A Few More Thoughts on Imputation

John ArmstrongBiblical Theology

When I have commented on imputation in the past few years I am sometimes asked if my position is "a classic Protestant position" on these matters. The answer is, in itself, a point for considerable discussion. The Lutherans clearly had a nuance on the matter. Calvin had yet another nuance and Bucer had yet a different one from Calvin. (They agreed on the main points, at least as I read them, but differed on minor ones.) I do believe that I am personally within the general framework of confessional Reformed theology, which I do affirm as the best system for understanding the trajectories of Scripture on these particular matters. (I do not, however, think that the Reformed confessions are the only important and necessary words of the Church on grace, faith, and union with Christ. Since salvation includes "sharing in the divine nature." Frankly, I think there is a great deal more to be said that is not included in these words of sixteenth century confessions).

I am further asked: "Is the gift of righteousness in salvation ‘the righteousness of Christ?’" Yes, it is this for sure. Is "covenant fidelity" Christ’s own faithfulness? Yes, again it is. But must we, by the Spirit, be faithful? I would argue a just as clearly affirmed yes, but not in the same sense as Christ’s faithfulness is ours because our faithfulness is never perfect or complete while his clearly is. What I am opposing here is the thought that our faithfulness, in the saving process worked in us by the Spirit, is somehow optional. All Reformed ministers do the same, but perhaps not in the same way that I say this, when they insist that sanctification is truly necessary.

I have also been asked if I agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XI, "On Justification." I would not word the biblical doctrine in precisely this manner but I find nothing in these statements that I do not agree with, unless "imputing Christ’s obedience" to believers is understood to mean imputing his "merit" as the foundational basis of our salvation. It is the whole idea of "merit" that I want to oppose, seeing it as a non-biblical, indeed Roman Catholic, notion.

Finally, when I am asked about the best text in the Bible on imputation, and plainly the clearest one, I always go to 1 Corinthians 1:30. When Paul says, "whom God made" here he is using classic imputational language. What is interesting here is to note that God imputes righteousness, sanctification and redemption (all three). It is precisely a text like this one that makes certain parts of the language that some Reformed people are most familiar with inadequate to do full justice to the very words used here by the apostle.