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Is the Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness Biblical? A Response to N. T. Wright

February 2, 2007

By John Starke

Here is a response to a large amount of work done by N. T. Wright in the past few decades. Some works have been helpful and some, I feel, have been damaging to the gospel. The article below does not include the Greek text and graphs in the original document. I had to either delete the Greek or transliterate. My transliteration is sloppy, so please forgive me. The graphs might have been helpful to further my argument, so if you would like a copy, post your email in the comment section.

Imputed righteousness may be explained as the means by which believers in Christ are declared righteous in God’s role as Judge. However, this righteousness is not theirs but is Christ’s own righteousness imputed, or ascribed to them. This doctrine is intrinsic to the Protestant doctrine of justification. There is no other means possible by which believers can be justified other than the very righteousness of God given to them.
Imputed righteousness has two invariables central to it. First, the wrath of God is a literal and glaring reality. He is angry with sin and his “wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) since the infinite value of the glory of God has been dishonored (Romans 1:19-32). So then, the first invariable is that there is a cataclysmic dilemma concerning our sin and God’s wrath. Second, the wrath of God must be satisfied by an infinitely valuable atonement since his infinitely valuable glory has been dishonored. God, the Father, sent his Son to be made sin so that believers can be made righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21) through faith (Romans 4:3). The obedience of Jesus (Romans 5:19) and his very life (Romans 5:10) saves us and makes us righteous.
Imputation theology has drawn objections from a number of doubters. However, my argument is mainly concerned with the work of N. T. Wright on Paul’s use of righteousness. As a leading proponent of the New Perspective on Paul, Wright redefines “righteousness” and the “righteousness of God” as God’s covenantal faithfulness within Pauline literature. I will argue against Wright’s use of “righteousness” and “righteousness of God” for the forensic use, in other words, terms that describe our God as legally applying his righteousness in order that we may be righteous in his sight. Righteousness is a gift imputed to the believer because of the death of Christ.

The Historical Protestant View of Imputed Righteousness
The doctrine of justification has been the center of controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the time that Martin Luther came to understand justification by faith during his series of lectures on Psalms. John Calvin described this conflict of justification as, “the first and keenest subject of controversy between us” in his letter to Cardinal Sadoleto in August 1539. This doctrine not only created conflict within the church but also changed the religious and political landscape of Europe forever.
The crux, however, of this controversy was the doctrine of imputation of the righteousness of Christ that was an intricate part of the Reformed idea of justification. Calvin put it this way, “Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” Elsewhere he again said, “As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness.” Luther, in his commentary on Galatians states it this way:
And whosoever shall be found having this confidence in Christ apprehended in the heart, him will God account for righteous. This is the means, and this is the merit whereby we attain the remission of sins and righteousness…. Here is to be noted, that these three things, faith, Christ acceptation, or imputation, must be joined together.

The early reformers fought popes, councils, and diets insisting that one is not justified by indulgences, merits stored up by saints, or any gratifications of the papacy, but only by the forgiveness of sins and the imputed righteousness of Christ. These two things, forgiveness of sins and Christ’s righteousness, could not be separated. If there were no forgiveness of sins then there would be no imputation of righteousness, and if there were no imputation of righteousness then there would be no forgiveness of sins.
Throughout the rest of Protestant church history, the fight for imputed righteousness continued. Quotations from various Protestant theologians illustrate this point. John Owen defended the doctrine of imputation using the Old Testament ordinances of a scapegoat in Leviticus 16:21, 22, concerning Christ as the scapegoat of old through whom God would “transfer the guilt to another” and paralleled this passage with 2 Cor. 5:21. “This is that commutation I mentioned: he was made sin for us; we are made the righteousness of God.”
Jonathan Edwards, in his response to doctrines that were “opposite to such an absolute and universal dependence on God, derogate from his glory, and thwart the design of our redemption” stated:
Justification consists in imputing righteousness. To pardon sin is to cease to be angry for sin. But imputing righteousness and ceasing to be angry are two things. One is the foundation of the other. God ceases to be angry with the sinner for his sin because righteousness is imputed to him…. To suppose a sinner pardoned without a righteousness implies no contradiction but to justify without a righteousness is self-contradictory.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon The Gladness of the Man of Sorrows, likewise said:
“Our Beloved loved righteousness indeed when he emptied out all his heart-floods that he might make us righteous. Moreover, as in his life and death we see that he loved righteousness, we discern it too in the constant effect of his work. His gospel makes men righteous. Does it not give them a legal righteousness by imputation?”

Contemporary Controversy
However, within the bounds of contemporary New Testament scholarship, controversy has again risen over the doctrine of justification and more specifically imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Through the work of scholars such as Robert Gundry, N. T. Wright, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, along with Don Garlington and others, decisive terms have been redefined within Pauline literature, and the focus of whole New Testament epistles, particularly Romans and Galatians, has been redirected.
These changes have been chiefly attributed to the so-called New Perspective on Paul. In 1977, E. P. Sanders released Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which, along with a number of other works, began the movement of re-examining the significance of justification within Pauline literature. This line of thought was developed further by the works of N. T. Wright, and James Dunn who coined the term “The New Perspective on Paul” in his 1982 Manson Memorial Lecture and his large work on Paul The Theology of Paul the Apostle (1998). These scholars took on the large task of redefining justification and in the process have become increasingly influential within evangelicalism.
Yet, not every challenge to the doctrine of imputation can be attributed to the New Perspective. Robert Gundry, who distances himself from the New Perspective, while still holding to some of their soteriological reforms, brings an attack on the doctrine of imputation in a response article to a “common statement” of evangelical scholars called “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration” in Christianity Today. Gundry, in his article in Books and Culture on “Why I Didn’t Endorse ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration,’” attacks “Celebration” for having “noticeable tendencies to water down, if not wash down the drain, certain features of the evangelical tradition that are rooted in Scripture.” Gundry further accuses the statement of carrying a “strongly Reformed tone,” impressing the doctrine of imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, and therefore keeping “such evangelicals (who do not hold to imputation) outside the fold.”
After arguing against the doctrine of imputation, Gundry ruled the doctrine “unbiblical” and therefore called for the doctrine to be abandoned. Gundry’s article has consequently spawned a cycle of works in response to his claims concerning imputed righteousness in the doctrine of justification.

What Questions Are Asked in the New Perspective on Paul?

To have an appropriate understanding of the New Perspective on Paul, one has to know what questions are being asked. Historically, Protestants have come to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and have asked the question: “How can I find a gracious God?” However, to the New Perspective, the question is not “how can I find a gracious God?” but rather “what is the place of the Gentiles in the Church and plan of God?” According to the New Perspective, the historical Protestant view was an effect of Augustine’s “expressed dilemma of the introspective conscience” and “Luther’s inner struggle with Paul as a truly Augustinian monk.” N. T. Wright accuses the Reformers of having a “medieval over-concentration on righteousness” so that they “thereby distorted what Paul himself was saying.”
Therefore, according to the New Perspective, the right question to ask when coming to Paul’s epistles is not “how can one find a gracious God?” but rather “how can Gentiles enter into the covenant family of God?” E. P. Sanders states the argument clearly: “The subject matter is not ‘how can the individual be righteous in God’s sight?’, but rather, ‘on what grounds can Gentiles participate in the people of God in the last days?’” James Dunn writes, “The leading edge of Paul’s theological thinking was the conviction that God’s purpose embraced Gentile as well as Jew, not the question of how a guilty man might find a gracious God.”
N. T. Wright mentions in his explanation of justification the precise paradox to historical Protestantism:
When we talk of God’s vindication [justification] of someone, we are talking about God’s declaration, which appears as a double thing to us but I suspect a single thing to Paul: the declaration (a) that someone is in the right (their sins having been forgiven through the death of Jesus) and (b) that this person is a member of the true covenant family.

Wright reveals something very key to our understanding. In my explanation of the historical view of justification I explained that forgiveness of sins and imputed righteousness could not be separated, according to the Reformers. However, in Wright’s explanation of the New Perspective’s view, justification is explained as forgiveness of sins and covenant community membership.
Covenantal Nomism is a term introduced by E. P. Sanders to explain how one enters into the God’s Covenant and remains in God’s Covenant. Sanders defines it himself this way: “”Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments.” Therefore, in the New Perspective’s view, justification is no longer soteriological but ecclesiological.
Consequently, their view on justification affects their view on Paul’s definition of the gospel, the meaning of “works of the law,” the meaning of “righteousness of God,” future judgement, atonement, the ordo salutis, the righteousness of the believer and other issues. While all of these are important topics in the study of justification, we shall focus just on three of them and perhaps touch on a few others when it is appropriate for our topic of study. The three that we shall focus on are (1) the definition of the Gospel, (2) the meaning of the “righteousness of God” (3) and the righteousness of the believer.
These three topics are primarily dealt with by N. T. Wright. Wright’s views of the gospel, the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of the believer are deeply contrary to mainstream evangelical Protestantism and his influence within evangelicalism has further implications that will be considered. The remainder of my effort will be to establish N. T. Wright’s arguments concerning these topics in order to dispute them, and to argue for the doctrine of imputation of the righteousness of Christ as biblical.

The Definition of the Gospel According to N. T. Wright
As stated above, according to the New Perspective, justification has shifted away from being soteriological to ecclesiological, therefore affecting what is central to Paul’s doctrine: the gospel. In compliance with the shift of the doctrine of justification, the gospel is no longer seen as soteriological, but Christological. I believe N. T. Wright’s definition of the gospel gives clarification to this:
When Paul refers to ‘the gospel’, he is not referring to a system of salvation…, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. The ‘gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul is, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

This conception proves to be pervasive throughout the New Perspective’s and in particular Wright’s interpretation of Paul’s thoughts on righteousness, which we will discuss in the following sections.
Wright’s definition of the gospel, however, is contrary to the historical view that has been held within Protestant and even Catholic thought. The German Reformer, Philip Melanchthon defines the gospel as “the gratuitous promise of the remission of sins for Christ’s sake.” The 19th century Scottish theologian James Haldane states simply that the “gospel is the good news of pardon to the guilty.” The contemporary Iain Murray states the gospel as “Christ’s finished work alone which secures forever the believer’s status of righteousness and of ‘no condemnation.’
Traditionally, the gospel has been the good news of a way of salvation for sinners, yet Wright says that Paul “is not referring to a system of salvation…. nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, though of course the gospel implies and contains this.”
The contrast might be best understood if stated like this: Historically, the gospel (a way of salvation for sinners) in contained within the lordship of Christ, the way in which the gospel is made available. Wright argues that the Lordship of Christ (his definition of the gospel itself) contains in it the way of salvation. While both are similar, both have further different implications.
The first implication is that Wright describes Paul’s gospel as having a “subversive political dimension,” or in other words the gospel of Jesus is the answer to the empire of Caesar. The empire of Jesus is a political subversion to the Empire of Caesar, which says that Caesar is Lord. This is what Wright says is the “heart of what I have called ‘the fresh perspective on Paul.’” This statement is crucial in understanding Wright’s interpretation of Paul’s gospel. In a world where the nations are forced to recognize Caesar as kurios, Paul comes to deliver the gospel, the good news, of Jesus as, not Caesar. This perspective, therefore, heightens the Christological aspect of the gospel over the soteriological. The center of the gospel is not the good news of a solution to man’s predicament of sin, but man’s predicament in the tyrannical rule of Caesar.
A second implication is the incorporative rather than individual meaning of the gospel. The problem the New Perspective, especially Wright, has with historical evangelicalism is that its gospel focus has been concentrated on the individual salvation of the believer, when that was not the focus of Paul’s gospel. In Wright’s book Climax of the Covenant, Adam is the vital character in Paul’s theology concerning mankind’s representative of the curse of sin, and therefore we need a new representative or messiah. He explains this further in his essay “Xristos” as “Messiah” in Paul: Philemon 6: “Paul regularly uses the word [Xristos] to connote, and sometimes even denote, the whole people of whom the Messiah is the representative.” This is similar to the way a king and a people are wrapped together so that what is true of one is true of the other. Therefore, putting faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord puts the believer within the covenant community, which Wright calls the “climax of Israel’s history.” Therefore, one parenthetical implication of this perspective is that it renders substitutionary atonement irrelevant.
Finally, a third implication is the proclaimed message, which has direct significance to the rest of our topics of study: the righteousness of God and of the believer. We mentioned above that the gospel is presented within New Perspective as not the good news of a way or system of salvation, but rather the lordship of Christ. Therefore, we might read Romans 1:16-17 very differently when it says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” While this verse seems to define the gospel clearly as a way of salvation for believers, the context of verse 17 affects the reading of the New Perspective. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” If the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and the climax of the history of Israel is participation in the covenant community in Christ, it is likely then that we must define salvation in verse 16 and righteousness of God in verse 17 very differently from what they have been historically defined. The righteousness of God is defined briefly as “God’s covenant faithfulness,” but we will embark further on this in the following section; however, it is difficult to define clearly the New Perspective interpretation of salvation. In fact, assuming that the climax of Israel’s history is inclusion in the covenant community in Christ and implying the personal salvation is extraneous to Paul’s gospel, then the entire definition of salvation becomes obscure.

A Redefinition of the Righteousness of God According to N. T. Wright
As mentioned above, the definition of the gospel according to the New Perspective effectively changes the historical view of the righteousness of God since they theologically intertwine within Scripture. As Wright puts it, “This heraldic message [the gospel] reveals the righteousness of God, that is, God’s covenant faithfulness.” Don Garlington clarifies this view: “Righteousness in these passages, and, consequently, in Romans 1:17; 3:21, 22, 25, 26 is not… ‘external righteousness’ (the active obedience of Christ), but rather God’s saving activity on behalf of Israel.”
The righteousness of God is, therefore, not a moral standing given to the believer in providing a right standing before the God-judge, but rather God’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with Israel and to the world in Genesis 12. Translating dikaiosune Theou as “righteousness from God” in Romans 3:21-26 is, according to Wright, “appalling and self-contradictory” because it does away with Paul’s theme of God’s faithfulness to his people.
Don Garlington stresses that Wright correctly emphasizes the synonymous relationship between “salvation” and “righteousness” especially within messianic Old Testament texts which seem to emphasize the correlation between the two. Garlington notes, “‘Righteousness,’ according to these texts, is ‘salvation’ (deliverance from exile).” Psalm 98:2 says, “The Lord has made known his salvation; before the nations he has revealed his righteousness.” This is the context in which Garlington and Wright read Romans 1:16-17. “Righteousness” is synonymous with “salvation,” rather than being a component in the process in the salvation of God’s justification. The implication of this position is the center and the focus of this thesis. If the righteousness of God is the faithful, saving and judging act of God rather than the moral character of God, then the doctrine of imputed righteousness should, therefore, be characterized as unbiblical. However, if this understanding of the righteousness of God is true, Wright must first explain then why does Paul call saints “the righteousness of God,” particularly in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

The Righteousness of the Believer According to N. T. Wright
There are several passages in Scripture which Protestants historically believe teach the doctrine of imputed righteousness. The hallmark passages are generally Romans 3:21-26, 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and Philippians 3:9. The doctrine that is coupled with imputed righteousness is substitutionary atonement, and both are believed to be dramatically displayed in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” A view that is sympathetic to the doctrine of imputation would interpret this passage to mean that he (Christ) who was perfectly righteousness became unrighteous and took on our sin for us, so that we who knew no righteousness (sinners who have faith) might be given the righteousness that is from God. This reconciles the sinner to the righteous God-judge. The Father looked on Christ for our righteousness in order to be reconciled with us and does not count our trespasses against us (1 Cor. 5:19). To the Reformers, this was the gospel by which believers are saved. This is how justification by faith is accomplished. Yet Garlington acts as if this belief were an overstatement, assuming that “justification by faith and imputation are tantamount to each other, as though the former could not exist apart from the latter.” It is the product of the “western’s” focus on Luther’s “dilemma of the introspective conscience,” as Krister Stendahl puts it.
Yet, how do we rightly explain the believers being called the “righteousness of God in him” (1 Cor. 5:21) without holding the doctrine of imputation? N. T. Wright puts much effort into explaining how this is so. For Wright, if we explain this passage as describing imputation, then we are loosing sight of the larger context of the passage, which is the New Covenant and Paul’s apostleship.
From 2:14 on, Paul has been addressing the question of his own apostleship, and in chap. 3 in particular he has done so in relation to the new covenant which God has established in Christ and by the Spirit… The discussion of Paul’s covenantal ministry then continues into chap. 5. It should be clear from the oun (therefore) in v. 11 that 1-10 contribute, as far as Paul is concerned, to the thrust of what follows: since all will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, with the prospect, for those who are in Christ’s, of receiving the “further clothing” of the glorious resurrection body, the apostle is spurred on to the work of “persuading human beings.”

So then, for Wright, the larger context of 2 Corinthians 2-5 is Paul’s apostleship and the new covenant through Christ and his Spirit, which Wright sees as building and finally climaxing at 5:21: “Here, then, is the focal point to which the long argument has been building up. Paul, having himself been reconciled to God by the death of Christ, has now been entrusted by God with the task of ministering to others which he has himself received, in other words reconciliation.” The reconciliation, in Paul’s part, allows Paul to act on God’s behalf as an apostle, “an ambassador” (vs. 20), reaching out to his readers with the ministry of the new covenant. Therefore, Wright concludes that,
The righteousness of God in this verse is not a human status in virtue of which the one has “become righteous” before God, as in Lutheran soteriology. It is the covenant faithfulness of the one true God, now active through the paradoxical ministry of Paul, reaching out with the offer of reconciliation to all who hear his bold preaching.

The humility of Christ, in becoming sin on our behalf, is, therefore, not “to explain how it is that people can in fact thus be reconciled,” but the way in which now Paul can take part in his apostolic vocation. Wright, then, uses this reading of 2 Corinthians 5:21 as a grid to which we should now read Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 1:30, and Philippians 3:9.

Romans 3:21-26
We begin reading this passage with the manifestation of the righteousness of God similarly to 1:16-17. Romans 3:21, 22 read, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” Just as Paul’s apostolic ministry is serving as an ambassador for the righteousness of God, even so the Law and the Prophets and Jesus Christ now have become ambassadors for the righteousness or the saving work of God. The Law and the Prophets have revealed the saving work of God and his covenant faithfulness, and now Christ is acting out that faithfulness in his death. Therefore, according to Wright, the death of Christ was not a work to reconcile believers to the Father by imputing his righteousness to the believer in the work of substitutionary atonement, but a work of faithfulness by Jesus to the covenant given to the people of Israel and the world.

I Corinthians 1:30
How then do we read 1 Corinthians 1:30 which explicitly reads, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”? Wright dismisses this passage as imputation theology “because it would seem to demand equal airtime for the imputation of wisdom, sanctification and redemption as well.” Wisdom is the context of 1 Corinthians 1 and therefore wisdom is given to us by way of Christ just as with righteousness, sanctification and redemption. However, it would again be wrong, according to Wright, to read righteousness as moral, but rather salvific. Therefore, with Christ acting as ambassador (as in Romans 3:21-22), our wisdom, righteousness (salvation), sanctification and redemption comes to us by way of Christ in his faithfulness.

Philippians 3:9
Finally, the imputation theology that is read into Philippians 3:9 is refuted phrase by phrase. It reads, “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God.” This passage is similar to Romans 3:21-22, which now in the context of Philippians 3, Paul contrasts the righteousness “through faith in Christ” and “which comes from God” with the righteousness which he gained in his life before, which he counts, now, as rubbish. However, with similar arguments, these passages can be shown to mean, not imputation, but again covenant faithfulness. Simply, the phrase “faith in Christ” is translated by New Perspective scholars as “faithfulness of Christ,” which is therefore the faithfulness of his covenant. This faithfulness of Christ is God’s saving act (or righteousness) for his people and can, according the Wright, be rightly called “the righteousness which comes from God.”
Wright asks the question “Is there then no ‘reckoning of righteousness?’” This seems very appropriate after refuting every passage that historically has been the very center of the gospel of Christ to believers for salvation. Wright answers, “Yes, there is; but my case is that this is not God’s own righteousness, or Christ’s own righteousness that is reckoned to God’s redeemed people, but rather the fresh status of a ‘covenant member.’”
These assertions about the gospel, the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of the believer, beg the following questions: Is there really a cataclysmic moral dilemma between the (moral) righteousness of human beings and the (moral) righteousness of God that needs to be remedied? And if there is, do these views solve that moral dilemma? Do these views make God both “just” in his work of wrath and salvation and the “justifier” in sufficiently saving those who believe with faith in Christ Jesus?
In arguing for the New Perspective view of the gospel and righteousness, I believe N. T. Wright has undermined the biblical description of our great salvation and in turn has undermined the cataclysmic moral dilemma between God and man. The Psalms show the great need for remedy in our dilemma that God must take our sin and separate it from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). Wright’s criticism of the evangelical church’s over-concern for personal salvation and personal substitutionary atonement undermines the eternal greatness of salvation. The climax in which Paul emphasizes in the covenant God has made with Israel is not covenantal community involvement, but rather the eternal glory shared with Christ (Rom. 8:17) and “the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The remedy that the cross of Christ provided was not for the purpose of a community exclusion problem. The problem was pre-Abrahamic covenant and pre-establishment of the nation of Israel. The need for the cross was from the fall in the garden, Genesis 3 and on. The problem is that all of creation has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25) and has dishonored an infinitely valuable God and, therefore, is in need of an eternal solution, namely the infinitely valuable Son of God. Only Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, can reconcile the dishonoring of the infinite value of God by our sin, with the infinite value of his righteousness, appeasing the wrath of God. I believe this to be Pauline theology, soteriology, and even his view of ecclesiology. However, these are simply propositional statements. I will proceed to argue against Wright’s view of the gospel, the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of the believer, giving a biblical argument for the imputed righteousness of Christ to the believer.

Is the doctrine of imputation merely a historical theological doctrine, based on medieval over-emphasis on righteousness by the reformers? Or is it based on a correct exegetical examination of Scripture concerned with our justification before God? If it is a correct exegetical examination of Scripture, is it explicit enough to say that it is the gospel of Jesus itself and apart from it, the gospel becomes obscure? My argument is that the doctrine of imputed righteousness is biblical and serves as such a vital part of the gospel, which the gospel is rendered ineffectual without it.
My argument is not to dispute the New Perspective as a whole, but precisely N. T. Wright’s argument of the Pauline use of the gospel and righteousness. I will attempt to articulate answers for the following questions: Is the Apostle Paul concerned with personal salvation to each individual believer? Is the righteousness of God covenant faithfulness or a forensic gift to the believer? Does the Apostle Paul teach that a righteousness that belongs to Christ is ascribed to the believer through faith?

Is the Apostle Paul Concerned With Personal Salvation to Each Individual Believer?
N. T. Wright argues that evangelicalism focuses too much on individual salvation, which was not Paul’s concern in the gospel or justification. Rather it was the community or incorporative emphasis of the covenant which Paul was concerned about. Are evangelicals being too egocentric in their preaching of the gospel? It might benefit our study to look at a few extra-Pauline Scripture texts for a comprehensive view of this theme.
Acts 16 is the narrative of Paul’s and Silas’ being put into prison for casting out a “spirit of divination” of a slave-girl and “throwing the city into confusion” (vv. 16-21) with their teachings of Jesus. Being put in the inner prison and having their feet fastened in stocks, they were heavily guarded (vv. 23-24). After a midnight earthquake releasing all the prisoners from their bondage, the jailor was about to commit suicide when Paul and Silas shouted, “Do not harm yourself, we are all here” (v. 28). The jailor’s response to Paul and Silas was “what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). At first glance, the reader might think that the jailor is concerned with being saved from the consequences of the escaped prisoners. However, we see from the response of Paul and Silas that it was not a personal concern for safety, but a personal concern for salvation. If the prisoner were still there, why ask how to be saved? Just put the prisoners back into their stocks and resume duty. The jailor had experienced the glory and power of God and was led to repentance and faith by the sharing of God’s word by Paul and Silas (vv. 32-34). The concern of the Acts 16 passage was the personal need of salvation for the jailor and the personal faith needed in Christ Jesus.
I argue now from Hebrews 3 that the salvation of individuals is an important theme in Scripture. The author of Hebrews has built an argument for the preeminence of Christ, the greatness of our salvation, and the warning not to neglect such a great salvation (Heb. 1-2). Now in chapter 3, the author pleads for each person to “take care… that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (3:12). His concern is so deep that he commands that “as long as it is still called ‘Today’” (3:13) we are to encourage one another to be aware of any hardening of the heart by sin. Therefore, we must conclude that the author of Hebrews is concerned with each and every individual’s salvation to the very end of their lives.
Paul’s concern for personal salvation and the emphatic need to find appeasement from God is found in Romans 2:1-10. God is judging those who judge others while practicing the same things, for God judges each according to his own works. The initial impression in reading the text automatically demonstrates Paul is communicating to each individual reader or hearer of his letter, urging each one to consider his warning. Our English translations suggest this emphasis with the phrases “God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (2:6), “there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil” (2:9), and “glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good” (2:10). However, reading the Greek, the argument becomes more conclusive. When addressing his reader, Paul continually uses singular personal pronouns in the original Greek. For example, verses 5 and 6, “But because of your stubborn and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds.”
One contrasting argument may arise that Paul is addressing in singular form both Jew and Greek, as in the conclusion of verses 9 and 10: “of the Jew first and also of the Greek… to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” What Paul then would be saying is that God will judge each group, Jew and Gentile, according to their own works, emphasizing, again, community rather than individuals. My response would be, first, that this notion seemingly disregards the fact that this judgment is occurring “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5). Paul is not teaching that at judgment day, whole communities will have to give account for their good or evil deeds rather than individuals. The apparent meaning is that Paul is discouraging hypocrisy and includes encouragement to seek out glory, honor, immortality, and good works to each individual person. Secondly, even if Paul were speaking in general terms in using personal pronouns referring to groups or communities, the argument would inevitably break down, because, all communities of faith or good works have to be made up of individuals who have faith or do good works. The unavoidable conclusion from this passage is that Paul is deeply concerned with each individual and his or her personal salvation.

The Righteousness of God – A Forensic Free Gift to the Believer
N. T. Wright argues that Paul’s usage of “righteousness of God” is not a forensic gift to the believer. In fact it is something that is not meant to be given at all. It is God’s covenantal faithfulness or his saving work. Therefore, Paul’s usage of righteousness is synonymous with salvation, concluding that our status as a believer before the Father in judgment is not the righteousness of Christ given to us through faith. I argue, however, that Paul’s use of the righteousness of God is a gift given to the believer through faith.

Romans 1:17
Paul in Romans 1:17 shows us the access to the righteousness of God, or rather shows the conditions of it. There are two conditions which Paul presents to us for the righteousness of God, otherwise it would be hidden and present itself as judgment (1:18; 2:5). First, the righteousness of God is found (or revealed) in the gospel. It is clear from the conjunction gar (for) between verses 16 and 17 that the gospel is the framework in which God chooses to work this revelation of his righteousness. However, Paul gives a second condition to which otherwise God’s righteousness would be hidden: faith. “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” These two conditions are contingent upon one another for God’s righteousness to be revealed.
The phenomenon is found in the latter part of the verse: “as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” This prophecy is fulfilled from Habakkuk 2:4, where the proud man is contrasted with the one who has faith and therefore lives as one who is righteous. The phenomenon is that the believer has, himself, become righteous. My conclusion and argument for the rest of this section is that the righteousness of God to the believer is the forensic, free gift to the believer making the believer right with God, rather than covenantal faithfulness which would be strictly synonymous with salvation. For we shall see that it is one thing to say that salvation and covenant faithfulness are proof of the righteousness of God, but it is another to say that they constitute solely the righteousness of God. Mark Seifrid puts it this way:
“Along with the references to a ‘saving righteousness’ of God, there are a number of passages in which punitive or retributive conceptions are associated with the ‘righteousness of God.’ Often this usage represents a confession, which appears as a formal element within a contention. After the crops of Egypt have been destroyed by fail in one of the ten plagues, the Pharaoh confesses, “The Lord is righteous, I and my people are guilty’ (Exod 9:27). Similarly, in the great confession of Nehemiah, the people consider their lamentable condition and say to the Lord, ‘You are righteous in everything which you have brought upon us, for you have acted in truth and we have acted wickedly.”

Continuing in Romans 1:17-18, we see the righteousness of God in strict contrast against “all unrighteousness”–or sin, which in turn leaves no room of the interpretation of covenantal faithfulness. In 1:17, the righteousness of God is revealed to the believers and gives life. However, in verse 18, God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Interestingly, in 2:5, Paul further defines this as the “righteous judgment of God” (wrath in 1:18 and judgment in 2:5 are synonymous in use, referring to the same forensic judging act of God). Furthermore, in 3:5-6, the question is raised whether God can judge the unrighteous, since they demonstrate God’s righteousness, and still be righteous himself or not? Paul answers that he must still be righteous, stating, “For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” The answer Paul expects is by his righteousness. From this reading of these texts I have two conclusions. First, justification and life to the believer are attributed to the righteousness of God as well as wrath and judgment. Therefore, since both salvation (justification and life) and judgment are from the righteousness of God neither can solely define it. From these verses and the larger context of Romans 1-3 the righteousness of God is neither solely salvation nor judgment, yet both are included. What the righteousness of God is solely concerned with is God’s faithfulness to himself and his word, so that he may grant justification to believers through faith and also be justified himself.
My second conclusion is from the observation that verse 1:18 is the contrary to 1:17. God’s wrath is against all unrighteousness, while God’s righteousness and life are revealed to believers. Since verse 18 carries a forensic theme with God’s judgment against the guilty, it would only be natural to supply verse 17, “the righteousness of God”, with the very same theme.

Romans 3:21-22, Romans 10:3-5, Philippians 3:9
It may not be as convincing to look at each passage, Romans 3:21-22, Romans 10:3-4 and Philippians 3:9, individually and conclude that the righteousness of God is forensic and ultimately a gift to the believer. However, when all three are paralleled and attention is directed to their corresponding themes, there is convincing evidence against “covenantal faithfulness” as the meaning of God’s righteousness and instead for a forensic, justifying gift to the believer as the meaning. The theme of each passage is how one is to be right with God – whether or not it is through the Law or by faith in Christ. Faith is distinguished from the law as the means for the righteousness of God. In Romans 3:21-22 the righteousness of God is “apart from the Law,” but given “for all those who believe.” In Romans 10:3-4, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness” and becomes the object of faith, therefore righteousness is given “to everyone who believes.” Finally, in Philippians 3:9 when Paul speaks of “not having a righteousness derived from the law,” he emphasizes that “righteousness which comes from God (is) on the basis of faith.”
Clearly, the righteousness is one that is sought by the believer in these passages as an object of merit before God for favor. Yet, it is just as clear that this righteousness is a gift from God rather than something to be gained through the means of the Law. It is difficult to deny that the righteousness of God is presented as a gift to the believer since it is sharply contrasted with the righteousness that is established through one’s own efforts through the Law. The merits needed to be right with God in these texts are obviously found in something that is completely alien to the believer. If we interpret the meaning of the righteousness of God to mean God’s faithfulness or saving activity, the question of how we merit or deserve this saving activity is still left obscure.

2 Corinthians 5:21
A final argument comes from 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Wright argues that Paul’s use of the righteousness of God is still in the “all important sense of covenant faithfulness.” Paul, as the righteousness of God, is then interpreted as one who is an ambassador for the covenant faithfulness of God, pleading for his listeners to be reconciled to God. Therefore, under this premise, the work of Christ on the cross is climaxed at the apostolic vocation of Paul to Gentiles for their inclusion in the covenant community of faith, rather than our justification before God. I find this argument to be anticlimactic and unpersuasive, even obscure.
2 Corinthians 5:21 presents an exchange between Christ and the believer. Christ, the righteous One becomes sin, and we, the sinners, who have never known righteousness, become the righteousness of God, namely Christ. This transaction is the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Those who reject this view argue that the context of the passage does not actually present an exchange between Christ and the believer or that imputation is not explicit within the text. I argue that both are apparent within the text.
In support of this argument, Paul asserts elsewhere the exchange action between Christ and the believer. In Galatians 3:8 Paul claims that the Gentiles would be justified through the foreseeing of Scripture what God would do on their behalf. What God would do is explicitly described in verses 13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us… in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” Christ freed us from the curse of the Law by actually becoming the curse for us. This is synonymous with Christ’s becoming sin on our behalf. The exchange of the curse, in Galatians 3:13-14, was for the “blessing of Abraham in Christ.” This blessing to Abraham in Christ is defined more precisely in 3:6 as “reckoned righteousness.” The structures of the transaction in both texts are the same. Our sin and our curse were taken from us and imputed to Christ, who became sin and became a curse on our behalf, and we receive the blessing of righteousness as a gift in Christ, reconciling us to God.

The Righteousness of the Believer – The Appointment of the Father, the Obedience of the Son, and the Faith of the Believer
The previous section argued for the righteousness of God as a forensic gift given to the believer through faith, rather than the covenantal faithfulness of God. The parallel of the three texts showing that the righteousness of God is apart from the law and through faith, in my opinion, is decisive. Further, I argue in this section that the righteousness of the believer is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer through the threefold action of the Father, the Son, and the believer. Paul does not isolate either one of the three as the only grounds for the righteousness of the believer, but emphasizes three separate individuals, three separate actions, and the result is specified in three different ways, namely: became righteous, made righteous, and reckoned righteous.
The action we observed in Romans 3:21-22, Romans 10:3-4, and Philippians 3:9 was faith, which resulted in the gift of the righteousness of God. However, faith in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:19, and Romans 4:3 is not the primary action in all three, only in Romans 4:3, in which faith is the action of the believer, while the action in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is being done primarily by the Father, and the action in Romans 5:19 by the Son. The action of the Father is the appointment of the Son to his mediatory work. The action of the Son is the obedience to the will of the Father in his mediatory work. Therefore, the righteousness of the believer is accomplished through three separate grounds: appointment, obedience, and faith. We shall look at the work of each of the Father, the Son, and the believer separately in order to show precisely how the work of imputed righteousness is accomplished in the believer.

The Work of the Father
The Father’s work in justifying the believer involves two particular acts: First, his work of sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world as his agent of redemption. Secondly, his work of applying the punishment of sin to His Son in place of us. When these two acts are distinguished and understood, 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin” is recognized as the two-fold work of the Father in sending his Son and making him our Mediator for the sake of our righteousness.
First, the act of the Father sending the Son, employing him in the work of justification, is confirmed throughout Scripture. In the Gospel of John the mention of this act of sending Jesus into the world appears more than twenty times. John 3:16, 17, God sent his Son not for the sake of judging the world, but to save it. In John 10:35, the Father “sanctified and sent into the world” his Son. The witness of the trustworthiness of the acts of Christ is found in the testimony of “the Father who sent [him] in John 5:37.” Paul describes the Father’s work in filling up where the law was lacking in “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” in Romans 8:3.
Second, Isaiah 53 looks forward to the time when the Father will make Christ the one who will be “smitten of God, and afflicted” (v. 4) for our sake, and “cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (v. 6), and “to crush him, putting him to grief” (v. 10). This was the will of the Father for Christ, to make oblation for the sin of his people as a mediator by applying to him our punishment of sin, which we deserved.
Both the work of sending and applying the punishment of sin to Christ is climaxed in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where the Father is the one who makes Christ to be sin on our behalf, “so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

The Work of the Son
The work of the Son in justifying the believer is found (1) in his act as the Father’s agent of redemption and (2) in his voluntary willingness and obedience. These acts are summed up in Romans 5:19 where Paul states that “by the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Clearly, this passage points out the peculiar work of Christ in obedience, resulting in the justification of many.
First, Scripture recognizes the volition of Christ in his work of redemption. Revelation 1:5 speaks of Christ as One “who loves us and cleansed us from our sin by his blood.” In Ephesians 5:25, 26 Christ “loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her.” In John 17:19, for our sake Christ sanctified himself in order that we might also be sanctified with him. In Galatians 2:20 his work is practically described as a gift when “who loved [us], and gave himself for [us].”
Second, the emphasis of my argument is the voluntary willingness and obedience of the Son to which John Owen writes, “without which it (the sacrifice of Christ) would have not been any value (for if the will of Christ has not been in it, it could have never have purged our sin).” His willingness was foretold in Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb being led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth.” The commandment from the Father to lay down his life is perceived as also within the authority of the Son himself in John 10:17, 18, “I lay down my life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
The culmination of these two acts is in Romans 5:19 where “through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” The righteousness of the many depends on the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father who sent him.

The Faith of the Believer
The faith of the believer is significantly different than the work of the Father and Son in justification. The primary difference is that the faith of the believer is not a work at all. Throughout Scripture, works and faith are contrasted. “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight… But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:20-21). “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith” (Rom. 3:27-28). “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). Therefore, Romans 4:3 reveals plainly that through our faith we are reckoned as righteous. This is a justifying righteousness, “as a favor (Rom. 4:4) through belief “in him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Scripture is not revealing three separate ways in which the believer may be found righteous, but rather is revealing three components that are included in the justification of the believer. The results of all three are the same. The “righteousness of God” and “righteousness” are synonymous. Clearly, our righteousness is an extrinsic gift (as we have seen in the previous section) based on the work of the Father sending his Son, and the obedience of the Son in mediating for the sins of believers, and received by faith.
Wright’s assumption that our reckoned righteousness is not an imputed righteousness, but a fresh status of a new covenant member is, I believe, clearly misguided. The declaration of our righteousness by the Father and our faith in Christ are both based on the “obedience of the One” (Rom. 5:19), namely Christ. Paul explains further in Romans 5:10, “For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” The life and death of Christ is the basis of our faith and the basis of our righteousness. For if we are to be called the “righteousness of God”, it is by no other person than the sent Son of God, Christ Jesus.

Conclusion – How, Then, Do We Boast in the Lord?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “So that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” How do we boast in the Lord? The context of this passage is the wisdom of this world and the foolishness of the cross. The wisdom of this world is nullified by God by the foolish: “God has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). All this God does “so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:29). It looks as if we have nothing to boast in at all. How then are we able to boast in God? The answer is because God is for us and not against us (Rom. 8:31), so that we have victory in Christ despite our foolishness. However, more specifically our answer is found in verse 30: “But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”
I do not believe that there is a clearer verse in the letters of Paul arguing for the doctrine of imputed righteousness. We cannot boast before God with our own wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, or ransom. N. T. Wright argues against this reading because if we say this argues for imputed righteousness “it would seem to demand equal air time for the imputation of wisdom, sanctification and redemption as well.” I believe Wright to be correct that this verse certainly does demand equal airtime for the rest of these qualities of boasting and I believe that to be the intention of Paul, to show that all the capacities that are needed for merited salvation (wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption) are found only in Christ.
By nature we do not have the wisdom for salvation. The message of the cross is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). This is a sweeping statement for all of mankind that our wisdom will fail. Yet, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). But how do we even believe with our worldly foolishness? “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). To those who are called and believe, the wisdom of God, in Christ, is given. The wisdom of God and the righteousness of God clearly are paralleled and given in the same way when this verse is compared to Romans 3:22, “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” The wisdom of God and the righteousness of God are both given through Christ to those in faith.
Moving forward to sanctification, the best explanation might be found in John 17 in understanding how our sanctification is given to us in Christ. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer for his disciples and those who would believe because of their word Jesus says, in verse 19, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” The first part of the verse, “For their sakes I sanctify myself,” is almost parallel to 1 Corinthians 1:31, “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us… sanctification.” Jesus set himself apart, or sanctified himself, for the work of the cross, so that we might also (According to John 17:19) be set apart, or sanctified. We cannot say that our sanctification is merely made possible through Christ’s sanctifying himself, but much more; our sanctification is Christ sanctifying himself, through our union with him. Or as Paul puts it in Philippians 3:8-11, “that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ was set apart, sanctified for the work of the cross and resurrection, and in our union with him we are set apart, sanctified with the same sufferings in order to be resurrected to share in his glory.
Finally, Christ is to us redemption. When we think of Christ as redemption to us in imputation terms it becomes clear, especially in the context with the rest of the characteristics which Christ provides for us to salvation in 1 Corinthians 1:30. If we parallel it with the concept that Christ has become our righteousness in order for our justification, then we see that Christ has become our ransom price in order to provide for our freedom. We cannot provide for an eternal, once-and-for-all sacrifice as Christ did for our sins. Christ paid that price in his high priestly office before the Father. “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).
Therefore, we can say that I Corinthians 1:30 teaches that Christ became to us righteousness from God as a gift through faith and not have to negotiate with the context of the passage. For imputation theology shows clearly why we must only boast in the Lord if we are to boast in anything. Christ did not just provide a way so that we may work to salvation, but Christ is the way to salvation, and we can only boast in his work and merit. If we are wise only in the gift of Christ who is the wisdom of God, and are righteous only in the righteousness of Christ, and are sanctified only in the sanctified work of Christ, and are redeemed only in the worth of the ransom paying death of Christ, through faith, then we may say I boast only in the Lord.

So then, I will express this one final note: N. T. Wright is a difficult character to oppose. He has written many important works in recent years for the sake of the Church, like Who was Jesus? and The Resurrection of the Son of God, and others. Many of which are helpful and valuable. However, I find N. T. Wright’s arguments against the doctrine of imputed righteousness unimpressive and unaligned with the message of the gospel, especially according to Paul. Furthermore, I believe that his themes tend to be damaging to the gospel and its message as actual good news to the believer.

John Starke

11 Comments leave one →
  1. jeff permalink
    January 6, 2009 9:24 pm

    Heb 10.26 “If we go on sinning willfully after recieving the knowledge of the truth there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a fiery expectation of judgment and the fury of a fiery which will consume the adversaries”

    The doctrine of imputed righteousness goes against everything the spirit of this verse conveys. It collapses sanctification and holiness into justification (a one time belief). Everything is seen under a canopy of a declaration. The only happiness this brings is happiness to sin and not take life so seriously. Hitler claimed to be a Christian. Would you say He was righteous? I hope not.

    Furthermore, the doctrine of imputed righteousness is petrified with falling into “works righteousness”. Guess what, when I believed on Christ, was that a work? When I go to church, is that a work? Come on, Luther was paranoid about works, he said James was an episle of straw (this is Jesus’ brother!).

    All imputed righteousness is good for are dogmatic baptists who believe in “Once saved always saved!” There is more to Paul than a couple of verses on declared righteousness. What about his statements on holy living through a transformed life (both heart/mind)? What about keeping one’s mind on Christ? What about laying aside the weights and sins that beset us? What abot not everyone who says to me Lord Lord will enter my kingdom? What about Paul’s statement that the unrighteous “will not” inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6.3-11 [note: Paul is speaking hear to BELIEVERS!]).

    Yes, you have read a lot, but I am afraid you are to reductionistic in your anaylsis. Do not be afraid of combining thelogy and morality and then discerning how doctrine impacts beliefs about morality and holiness. It is not as easy as you have made it. Even in Galatians which could be used in many ways to cultivate antinomianism, we have chapter 5-6 which totally destroy any antinomian leanings of Paul (“the law of Christ”). You still need to wrestle with some things. I do admit it, I am a thankful Wesleyan-Arminian. Maybe I was predestined to write this to you.

    • January 12, 2014 2:50 pm

      I would beg to differ. Though you are correct that we are to progress to manifest righteousness, ie the fruit of the Spirit, I have always rejected the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved

      Imputed Righteousness is the basis whereby we can approach God to make this progress, indeed to stay with the Person Who is the Holy Spirit is the only way we can move to manifest righteousness for without abiding with Him we have forsaken Him for the Law as it says in Galatians

      Although some refuse the journey to holiness, without imputation the first step is removed from us and instead before us is the gaping chasm of sin separating us from a Holy and Terrible God

  2. jbstarke permalink*
    January 6, 2009 9:33 pm

    Jeff, Before the God of the universe, I hope you rely on nothing more or less than the life, death, and righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no hope without it. No hope.

  3. Providential1611 permalink
    November 29, 2009 10:44 pm

    I love how Calvinists always retort with the above, AS IF disagreeing with them is tantamount to trusting in other than Christ. Such knee-jerk misrepresentations are typical and provacatory.

    The Bible tells believers that without holiness, no man will see the Lord. Holiness can be lost, and a return to sin and evil commenced. At that point, one is NOT “trusting” in Christ. No man can trust Christ while continuing in sin. Proof that one trusts Christ is repentance and a life that ABIDES IN THE VINE. Christ said WE ARE TO abide in Him. He does not do that for us, and He also tells what will happen to every branch IN HIM that does not continue to abide–that man or woman will be burned.

    True trust in Christ means one FEARS THE LORD, and the one who fears the Lord DEPARTS FROM EVIL. And we are further told that whosover covers his sin shall not prosper, but whoseover confesses AND FORSAKES THEM shall have mercy.

    If we do not forgive others, we lose our justification and God the Father will require payment for all our debt we WERE forgiven of, according to Jesus Christ, who trumps Calvin, Augustine, Hodges, Pink, Carson, Murray, Spurgeon, Edwards and any other mere man. Praise God.

    • jbstarke permalink*
      November 29, 2009 10:59 pm

      Not exactly sure what you are responding to in this post. Maybe you can elaborate a little on what you are responding to.

  4. December 8, 2009 1:54 pm

    John–Are you familiar with the New Pelagainism of individuals such as Jesse Morrell? His view is that inputation is simply That God “counts” the beliver as righteous, and also that Christ does not literally aquire our sins, but rather that he is “punished” for our sins. If you need more elucidation on this, please let me know. How would you respond to such an iterpretaion? Thanks.

    • John Starke permalink*
      December 8, 2009 8:02 pm

      I’m not familiar with Jesse Morrell or the “New Pelagainism.” If you don’t mind, could you send me a link or something that would familiarize me with him?

  5. December 8, 2009 11:59 pm

    Here is a link to his article on Imputation:

    Here is a link to his article on original sin:

    Here is a link to his website:

    Here is a link to some theological writtings under various catagories that contain numberous of Jesse’s written views:

    I would value your input on how one would go about dialoging with such an individual concerning error?

    • David Ruthven permalink
      May 18, 2010 11:47 am

      check out Professor Charles G. Finney on the subject of imputed righteousness

    • January 12, 2014 2:44 pm

      How to dialogue with one in deep error?

      you warn them twice, as scripture says, then if they are obdurate you have nothing to do with them

      IOW one does not dialogue with those in error.

      I say this out of bitter experience and observation over decades.

  6. January 12, 2014 2:41 pm

    Everything does boil down to individual salvation for each of us will stand alone before God the Judge. Wright may be reacting to abuse of this where there is nothing else but individual salvation.

    that something be christological and not soteriological is IMO completely bizarre, a kind of nit picking and invalid distinction in order to throw out the gospel

    I can only be brought to manifest righteousness, ie the holiness without which none will see the Lord, by being able to approach the Lord the Holy and Terrible; and I can only do that if I have imputed righteousness. As a sinner I am ripe only for damnation.

    Wright undercuts the very means man can approach God and instead substitutes church membership for it. As no Church ever died for my sins or saved me from anything I must reject the system of mediators that Wright by his logic reintroduces that I can go the the Man Himself and receive his mercy

    Besides, imputed righteousness goes further back than Paul the Apostle. When “Abraham believed God and it was accounted righteousness unto him” this was the first express mention of imputation.

    Faith is always a matter for one person and his or her God. Community may be the result but it is not the means, for this makes an idol of the tangible people group whose fruit has been far from christian over centuries.

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