Romans 3:22-25 by Robert Dean
Studying God's righteousness continues as we look at the Doctrine of Imputation. In this lesson, we look at the differences between impute and impart, and we learn some very important distinctions between real imputations and judicial imputations. What are they?
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 36 secs

Imputation: Credits and Debits
Romans 3:22–25
Romans Lesson #035
September 29, 2011

As we go down from verse 22 to verse 25 we are talking about basically the same thing. This is the heart of Paul’s explanation of how a person is justified. In these verses we have imputation, justification, redemption, and propitiation. In Romans 3:22-5:11 we have the key elements, the focus of justification by faith—how does a person become justified. We pick up the context in verse 21 NASB “But now apart from the Law {the} righteousness of God has been manifested …” There is a lot of debate over what this means, and it is best to understand this as God’s own righteousness. It is a revelation, an unveiling of God’s own righteousness so that we come to understand His righteousness as He possesses it as one of His attributes. “… being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Those two terms together are a way that the Jews had of referring to the Old Testament.

In verse 22 we have this phrase “even {the} righteousness of God,” and we ought to translate that so we understand it—“God’s righteousness,” or maybe even “God’s own righteousness.” Then the next phrase “through faith in Jesus Christ.” This is a DIA preposition in the Greek which indicates the intermediate means of receiving something—“through faith.” It is not because of faith but faith is the means by which we appropriate what Christ did. Faith in itself is non-meritorious. What that means is that in contrast to Calvinistic teaching (not all Calvinists), in contrast to high Calvinists who teach that saving faith is a gift from God. But faith is faith; the merit isn’t in the faith, it is in the object of the faith. It is Christ who died, we are saved on the basis of what we believe; not the kind of faith we have. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that there is a faith in Christ that doesn’t save because it is not the right kind of faith, or any kind of faith is the right kind of faith. We are saved through faith toward Jesus; He is the object of our faith. “… for all those who believe.” This references the doctrine of imputation. How do we receive the righteousness of God? How does that come to us?

Historically in Christianity there have been two different ways of explaining this doctrine of imputation. The basic words are interesting. The Greek word for imputation found twice in Romans 4:3 (accounted, reckoned), 4 (counted) is LOGIZOMAI. The word in terms of the basis definitions in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology are to reckon, to think, or credit. The word “reckoned” is a basic old English word for thinking or counting. Arndt and Gingrich: “It was primarily a mathematical and accounting term.” This is a word that accountant would use as they are working through their credit and debit sheet. Since the word “reckoned” used in Romans 4:3 comes out of a quote from Genesis 15:6 we also have to look at the Hebrew word, which is chasab and means to think, to make a plan, to make a judgment, imagine, count, impute, calculate, value, regard, think, plan. So we see it is a thought word. It has to do with what you think about something, appraising the value of something. Oxford English Dictionary (OED): the verb impute means a) to “attribute something to someone.” When you attribute something to some one you are assigning a value to them, not necessarily giving them someone or making them something; b) in theology (Oxford says) it means to ascribe righteousness or guilt to someone by virtue of a similar quality in another. “Reckon” in the Oxford English Dictionary has similar ideas: to calculate, to be of the opinion of something, to regard something in a special way. The origin is from the Old English and it originally meant to give an account of items received. So it is an accounting term.

When we look at the verb to credit something, also in the OED, it means to publicly acknowledge someone as a participant in the production of something, or to credit someone or ascribe and achievement or quality to someone. That is important.

Two words to consider here: impute and impart. With imparting something I have a glass and I am going to impart water to a cup so that there is now water in the cup. Some concrete substance has actually placed inside the cup. That is the Roman Catholic view of imputation. It is not that you are credited with the righteousness of Christ but the Christian is made righteous. In making someone morally righteous they are morally changed. Imputation as Protestant have understood it means to credit something, for God to forensically or judicially declare a person to be justified. They it why in Roman Catholic theology they never know if they are good enough to have eternal life because the righteousness is imparted each time they participate in a sacrament. Eventually you accumulate enough righteousness to become righteous. That is a very different concept than what the Protestant view was of a forensic or judicial declaration of righteousness. So it is the difference between assigning or ascribing a value to someone—and they don’t change internally but are said to be something. There is no internal change, it is a judicial declaration by God.

We don’t trust in Jesus and have some sort of internal change that moves us from being unacceptable to being acceptable to God. What happens is we are covered by the death of Christ. We are credited with His righteousness so that we are declared righteous not on the basis of who we are or what we have done but because we are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

This means for the definition of imputation: It is the action of the justice of God whereby either condemnation or blessing is assigned, credited or attributed to a human being. It is a legal act, a legal declaration, not an actual transformation. There are two categories of imputations: real imputations and judicial imputations.

L.S. Chafer: There are three major imputations set forth in the Scriptures: (a) the imputation of Adam's sin to the race, on which fact the doctrine of original sin is based; (b) the imputation of the sin of man to Christ, on which fact the doctrine of salvation is based; and (c) the imputation of the righteousness of God to those who believe on Christ.

These three imputations all relate to what takes place surrounding justification.

Imputation may be real or judicial. That which is real is the reckoning or imputation or crediting to one of that which is antecedently his…

That is a difficult verbiage for a lot of people to understand. What is basically means is that there is an affinity or an attraction between what is imputed and to whom it is imputed—like sin to the sin nature. That is what makes it a real imputation.

… while a judicial imputation is the reckoning to one of that which is not antecedently his.

For example, when our sin is imputed to Jesus Christ on the cross, because He is not a sinner, there is no affinity or correlation between those two things. He is pure, our sin is sin, and those don’t go together. So that is called a judicial imputation.

Had the trespass mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:19 been imputed to those mentioned (as naturally it would have been) it would have been a real imputation. That means there is an affinity there. The trespasses were their own and the reckoning of those trespasses to them would have been no more than an official declaration of their accountability. Over against this when the apostle said “Put that to my account he referred to a debt that was not antecedently his own. One that was not related to him. It will be seen, however that the imputation of human sin to Christ is, since it could not be under any circumstance His own, is a clear instance of judicial imputation. Likewise, the imputation of the righteousness of God to the believer, while it provides a ground so equitable that God is said to be just when He justifies those who believe on Christ, does not bestow upon the believer anything which is antecedently His own. In other words, there is no affinity between Christ’s righteousness and our corrupt nature. We are getting something we don’t deserve. This imputation is also easily identified as being judicial in character.

The principle of imputation is thus seen to be one in which certain realities are reckoned from one thing to another thing. The story is complete as represented in the three major imputations. Man’s need is indicated in the imputation from Adam to his posterity—his sin to all human beings. Man’s salvation is secured in the imputation of man’s demerit (our debt) … our indebtedness is nailed to the cross … and man’s eternal standing and felicity are established through the imputation of the righteousness of God to man when he is placed in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

It is conceded that there are slight differences to be noted in certain particulars when these three major imputations are compared. These are largely developed by the truth that two are judicial imputations and one is real.

That is tough stuff to try and think your way through and sadly seminary students (at Dallas Seminary at least) are no longer exposed to reading through something like that. That is important to develop the thinking skills of a pastor because he needs to be able to understand that well enough to be able to break it down and explain it to people, and not just echo it or parrot it. When we get into words like “it is not antecedently his” what in the world does that mean?

Pastor Thieme developed this a little further and added a couple of things that were significant. He had four real imputations. Remember that a real imputation means that there is an affinity between what is imputed and the target. So the first is Adam’s original sin to the sin nature of each human being at birth. Pastor Thieme added eternal life to the human spirit, and that is appropriate. Eternal life is imputed to the human spirit—1 John 5:11, 12. But the next two really relate to future events, not justification per se. Blessings in time are imputed to the righteousness of God. Blessings in eternity are then given to the resurrected believer. It is important to understand that concept: the blessings are imputed to the righteousness of Christ. We don’t get blessed because of who we are, the blessing comes to us because of Christ’s righteousness. If it is based on who we are then it becomes works; we get blessing because of what we do. In a sense that is true, but not in a meritorious sense. The way to understand this is that God has already determined all the blessings that He is going to distribute to each one of us in time and in eternity. But whether it is actually given or distributed depends on whether or not we have the maturity to handle it. God is not going to give us something that would destroy us or something that we couldn’t handle. As we grow as believers God distributes blessings to us that He has already given us, but He doesn’t distribute them unless we are mature enough to handle them. That is why it is not based on works but they are given by grace.

In terms of judicial imputations, which is what we are really focusing on in justification, the first judicial imputation is where our personal sins are assigned or ascribed or credited to Jesus Christ on the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He doesn’t then become a sinner but He is judicially assigned our sin so that He is separated from the Father on the cross. He is separated from the Father during those three hours because He is judicially guilty. He is not actually guilty because He doesn’t become a sinner. But He is judicially guilty because He is being assigned the guilt and the penalty for our sins.

Then when we are saved Christ’s perfect righteousness is then ascribed or credited to us. We are no more moral than we were before we were saved or better than we were before we were saved. We still have the same qualitatively evil sin nature that we had before we were saved. The sin nature that we have is simply the capacity to evil, the same capacity to evil that Satan has. The only difference is he can actuate his sinful desires in ways we can’t even dream of because he has so much more power and ability than we do.

1.       A judicial concept means to attribute something to a person as a judicial or meritorious reason of blessing or condemnation, reward or punishment. It is what is attributed or imputed to us that is the basis for our blessing or, in the case of Adam’s original sin condemnation and judgment.

2.       To impute sin, e.g., Adam’s original sin, means to credit or assign the guilt of sin to all of Adam’s descendants. Because he is both our federal head as well as the seminal head. Federal headship simply means he is our designated legal representative. Adam’s decision was our decision. Whether we think that we would have made that decision or not is not the point. He is our legally designated representative. Because he sinned that guilt is assigned to all of his descendants. It is not only assigned to all of his descendants legally but the corruption itself is passed on genetically from father to child from generation to generation. Seminal means that there is a physical connection to Adam and a legal connection. So the sin nature is passed on genetically and when we are born God immediately imputes to that sin nature the guilt of Adam’s original sin.

3.       Imputation is very different from impartation. We don’t become righteous. There is character transformation that takes place after salvation as a result of spiritual growth but that is not imputation and justification.

Philemon 18 NASB “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” This is one example of where Paul uses the word LOGIZOMAI in a non-theological context, and he is talking about Onesimus the slave who has run away from Philemon. There is a debt, and Paul is saying to Philemon the owner, if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that, or reckon that to my account. Paul hasn’t done anything against Philemon, so that debt would be assigned to him even though there is nothing on his part that deserves that. That would be an example of a real, as opposed to a judicial, imputation.

Romans 5:12ff also utilizes a lot of these concepts related to imputation. NASB “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— ” That is the imputation of Adam’s sin. [13] “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

2 Corinthians 5:19 NASB “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting [imputing] their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

Psalm 32:2a NASB “How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity …”

Romans 4:8 NASB “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT [impute] TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” This has to do with the fact that we are not judged and condemned for our sin. We are condemned because of Adam’s sin. We are born corrupt. The basis of our judgment isn’t personal sins, the basis of our judgment is Adam’s sin.

This concept of imputation as the basis for justification is illustrated by Genesis 15:6 concerning Abraham. It is a parenthetical statement that refers back to a previous time than the events in Genesis 15, and it should be translated “At a former time he had already believed in the Lord and he [the Lord] had reckoned [imputed] it to him as righteousness.” That is the basis for Abraham’s justification. Abraham believed God, that He was able to provide a savior, and God imputed to him His righteousness.

The best illustration we get from this in the Old Testament is from Zechariah 3:1ff. This is a heavenly scene. Zechariah is the one who is speaking and he is speaking about God. [1] “Then he [God] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD [2nd Person of the Trinity], and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. [2] The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’”—someone destined for condemnation but has been saved. [3] “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” This is a picture of the high priest who has on his contaminated, defiled garments just as we are born contaminated and defiled by sin, and there is going to be a removal of that. [4] “He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him [the payment of the sin penalty at the Cross].’ Again he said to him, ‘See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes’”—the covering of righteousness. Joshua doesn’t change but he now becomes externally cleaned, which is comparable to the imputation of righteousness. [5] “Then I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.” This is a physical depiction of what happens in this somewhat abstract concept of imputation of righteousness.

Romans 3:22 NASB “even {the} righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…” Notice: believe plus nothing. [23] “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us can measure up to God’s standard. The glory of God is His integrity—His righteousness and His justice. [24] “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus”—if we are justified through redemption, what happened first? Redemption, the payment of the price.