The Doctrine of Imputation. Genesis 15:6
Notice Genesis 15:12, "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him." Notice he starts off with this command not to fear, and then as soon as he does what God says he is put into a deep sleep and he is terrorized in the midst of that sleep. The word that is used for fear here is a word that is used for the most intense kind of fear possible. Fear is not a thing that is a stranger to any of us, but what is the solution? The solution is the faithfulness of God, and that is the theme of this whole passage, that everything is being grounded in the faithfulness of God. So God reminds us about Abraham in verse six, that he had already believed in Yahweh, and the word that is chosen in that passage among several possible Hebrew words for faith is the word aman in the hiphil stem, meaning to rely upon something that is steadfast, something that is solid, something that is immovable and unshakable. And so the undercurrent of this whole chapter is that God is faithful to His promises. He reiterates the promises related to the seed in the first part of the chapter and in the second part of the chapter He is going to reiterate and define even more precisely the promise related to the land. But what under girds all this is that no matter how uncertain things may be for Abraham, no matter how much he might fear today for his safety because of potential threats from foreign enemies, no matter how he may perceive a threat to his own personal safety and security, his plans, his hopes, his dreams, God is saying, "I am always there, I am always faithful and am not going back on my promises."
Abraham had learned this when he was saved, Verse 6 is just a reiteration of this and in verse 7 God is going to strengthen that foundation through the Abrahamic covenant. But what we have already mentioned is that verse 6 sits in the center of this passage as the anchor point for the first conversation, verses 105, and the second conversation, verses 7-21. In verse 6 there is this reference which is picked up and commented on and utilized by Paul in Romans chapter four as the foundation for understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and we are told that he believed or trusted in Yahweh, and this is a significant statement here because of a couple of things in the Hebrew text here. He believed in Yahweh, and Yahweh, the sacred tetragrammaton for a Jew is always reminiscent of God as the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God who gave the covenant on Mount Sinai, because it was to Moses God revealed the significance of His name, I AM THAT I AM, and so that is always tied to His faithfulness and stability. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob understood that that was God's name and they used that name, but they didn't understand its significance in the way that the later Jews understood it in terms of the meaning given and revealed in relationship to the Exodus event. And that deliverance at the Exodus event, interestingly enough, is rooted and grounded in the prophecy made by God right here in Genesis 15. That shows how the Bible connects all these things together.
The issue that underlies this is anxiety that Abraham feels about his own life, his own security, his own destiny, and God is going to show what that is based on; that he can have certainty and stability even when the details of life are very loose and fluid and uncertain. All certainty in the Christian life is grounded on the character and person of God. The underlying doctrine here is the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of imputation. To understand the doctrine of justification we have to understand the doctrine of imputation. This is an important doctrine, it underlies our whole understanding of salvation, it underlies our whole relationship to God. Everything is built on this doctrine.
The doctrine of imputations
1) The doctrine of imputation is the action of the justice of God whereby either condemnation or blessing is assigned, credited, or attributed to a human being. It is the action of the justice of God, which means that is flows from His holiness. The foundation of this is His integrity, His holiness—His righteousness which forms the standard of His character, and the justice which is the application of that standard. It is fascinating that in both languages that God used to reveal Himself to man, in both Greek and Hebrew, the word for righteousness and the word for justice are the same word. In Hebrew that word is tzaddeq, and in Greek it is DIKAIOSUNE [dikaiosunh]. Each of these words, depending on the context, can either mean righteousness or justice, which indicates that when we are talking about these things, because they are represented by that same word, we are talking about the same thing but we shift in terms of its orientation. So that when we are talking about the standard we talk about righteousness; when we talk about the application of that standard to creatures we talk about justice. At the very root of man's whole problem with God is the problem of failing to meet a standard. That is why when we get over in to the New Testament one of the major doctrines related to salvation is the doctrine of reconciliation. Reconciliation means to have something be re-conformed to a standard. That standard was breached when Adam sinned. So at the very core of everything is the issue of God's righteousness and His justice so that before anything can happen in terms of our relationship to God this has to be resolved. The important thing is to understand how it is resolved. It is not resolved through our own personal ethics or morality because essentially that is not the problem. What we will see is that the reason we are condemned has nothing to do with our personal sin, it has to do with Adam's sin. Once we really understand that (very few Christians do) it starts to change our perception of what happens at salvation. At its very core imputation is a legal concept. Genesis 15:6, talking about imputation as a legal concept, is wrapped right into this covenant context where God is making a legal contract with Abraham. There are two categories of imputation: real imputations and judicial imputations. The term "real imputation" isn't contrasted to something that is unreal. It is in contrast to a judicial imputation. This distinction, interestingly enough, originated with Dr. Chafer at Dallas Seminary.
2) Real imputations credit something to a person which truly belongs to him, i.e. there is a similarity, there is an affinity between what is imputed and something that is possessed by the person to whom it is imputed. Therefore, when you say that eternal life is imputed to a regenerate believer there is an affinity there because he is already regenerate. When we say that the personal sins of man have been imputed to Jesus Christ there is not an affinity there, there is no relationship between our personal sin and the perfect Savior. So because we are fallen and our sins are imputed to Him that is called a judicial imputation, whereas a real imputation exists, for example, as when Adam's original sin is imputed to our sin nature. That is a real imputation because there is an affinity between the two, a correlation between the two.
3) Judicial imputations occur when the justice of God credits to a person what is not antecedently his own, in other words, there is not this correlation or affinity between what is imputed and the person receiving it. That is referring to the imputation of our sin to the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
4) What is the meaning of imputation? The English word "imputation" derives from the Latin word imputare, which means to reckon or to charge to one's account. The English means to charge someone with a fault or responsibility, or simply credit something to someone. It means to reckon, to charge to one's account, to assign something. It is a legal concept. The Old Testament word has a root meaning which means to think, and from this concept of thinking we get calculating, the idea of assigning value. It is an economic term, which is interesting because sin is often looked at as a debt. The New Testament Greek word is LOGIZOMAI [logizomai], which comes from logic, [logoj]. These are terms which have to do with thought. It is not a concrete thing, it is an abstract assignation or assigning of something to something else.
5) There is an example of the secular usage of the word in the New Testament, in Philemon 1:18 where Paul tells Philemon: "If he has wronged thee, or owes you in anything, charge that on my account"—impute it to me: logizomai.
6) The basis for justification is the character of God. We can't understand justification without understanding the character of God, the character of God relating to His justice and his righteousness. That has to be resolved.
7) Man, therefore, is ethically worthless, not ontologically worthless. We have value because we were created in the image and likeness of God, but we are ethically worthless because we have violated God's standard. Man isn't just neutralized, we don't move from a positive value to zero, we move into, negative territory. We don't just lose righteousness, we acquire an unrighteousness. Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." It doesn't say our unrighteousnesses, it says all our righteousnesses, i.e. the very best that we do is viewed by God as filthy rags. That is the deficit that we approach God with. We are not in a position of neutrality, we are in a position where there is an ethical deficit.
8) Therefore, there must not only be forgiveness of sin in the process but there has to be a positive addition of righteousness. Where this is important is that if we are ever witnessing to a Roman Catholic or someone who is out of a Roman Catholic background, their view of sin going back to the Middle Ages is that sin is a privation. Privation simply means you are missing something. As far as they are concerned evil is just the absence of righteousness, it is not the presence of a substantive evil or substantive unrighteousness. So they diminished at the very core of their understanding of man's being , what evil and sin is, to where it is merely an absence of righteousness and absence of good. That ends up making man neutral, and if man is neutral what can man do? He can do something to please God! All this fits together, and that is why it is so difficult.
9) Because the essential problem is a legal problem, not experiential, man can't solve the dilemma through ritual or through works. The problem is Adam's sin, and because of Adam's sin we are condemned, not because of our own sin. Because of that we can't solve it by doing something ourselves. We can't turn back the clock on Adam's fall in the garden. Romans 4:10, talking about Abraham's faith, "How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision." Circumcision was the ritual which was the sing of the Abrahamic covenant, and circumcision isn't introduced until Genesis chapter seventeen. So in chapter fifteen we just have the formal cutting of the covenant between God and Abraham, but the sign isn't given until chapter seventeen, and we have already seen that Genesis 15:6 predates even chapter twelve. So Paul's argument is, how was righteousness imputed? It is whether it was circumcised or uncircumcised. Not while circumcised but while uncircumcised. In other words, it is imputed before he does anything, before there is any ritual on Abraham's part. Romans 4:11, "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also." So it can be seen that it is completely apart from ritual, it is completely apart from obedience on the part of the believer. Man can't solve the legal dilemma through his own ritual or through works, it is a total reliance upon God. He is the one who gives us the righteousness.
10) Legal justification requires a perfect righteousness, an absolute righteousness, there can't be any flaws, any failure or any other problem, it has to be perfect. Therefore, we can't produce it. It can't be experiential.
11) God in His wisdom came up with a plan called imputation which is crediting one person someone else's perfect or positive righteousness. That is how God solved the dilemma.
12) The justification that we have is based on a perfect righteousness that comes outside of man, not inside of man. It is not based on some ethical improvement that takes place. It is not even exemplified by some ethical improvement that takes place, that is the error that came out of Roman Catholic theology, it is the error that is present in Lordship salvation, it is the error that is present in a lot of holiness theology—that somehow, if you are really saved, there is this ethical difference. But, you see, where do you get ethical out of legal? We are talking about a legal concept, not an ethical concept. The ethical concept belongs under sanctification.
13) This distinguishes justification from regeneration and sanctification. Justification comes first, and then because we have this legal standing before God He can regenerate us. Sanctification is subsequent to that. We have to distinguish these. If we connect them too closely we end up saying, "Well the spiritual life [sanctification] is how you know whether you were saved." It's, well so and so doesn't live like a Christian; he can't be one. The whole presupposition of that is that if you are really saved you are ethically changed on the inside so you won't do certain things. That confuses sanctification with justification.
14) Thus, justification must precede both regeneration and sanctification.
15) It is distinct from regeneration and sanctification. This isn't understood today. It was understood by Martin Luther, it was understood by the Reformers, and that is what gave birth to the Protestant Reformation and the historic position of the Anabaptists in the 16th century, the Lutherans in the 16th century, and the Reformed Calvinistic Huguenots in the 15th century. They understood this and they died for this. For them this wasn't abstract theology.
16) Attempts are often made to try to base justification on some inner quality of the sinner. That is what happens in Lordship salvation, i.e. How do you know whether you are saved? If you are saved you are going to exemplify a certain kind of behavior. Therefore, if you claim to be saved and you lie or commit murder or some sexual immorality then maybe you weren't really saved. And if you renounce Christ then you definitely were never saved, because if you were really saved there would have been this inner ethical transformation. That is just false. It ignores grace and it is a back-door legalism.
17) The first real imputation was Adam's original sin to the sin nature at birth. Historically there have been four different views related to imputation or how Adam's original sin affects the human race. In the early church there was a first class heretic by the name of Pelagius. He said it is not imputation, it is imitation and every person is born just as neutral as Adam was created. He was opposed by Augustine. Pelagius denied original sin and he was declared to be so. Another attempt was Jacob Arminius, the man from whom we get the school of theology known as Arminiainism. He is almost as bad as Pelagius. Pelagius said they were fully alive, they were neutral; Arminius said they are just partially dead. Calvin came along and his contribution to this theology was called federal headship, and that is that Adam was the federal head of the race and that he represented all of us. Augustine, going back in time again, introduced the concept of seminalism, that we were actually seminally, physically participatory. Both of these last two views are true.
18) The first judicial imputation is the imputation of our personal sins to Christ. The second judicial imputation is the imputation of His righteousness to each believer at the point of faith alone in Christ alone.
19) The result, then, is that man is declared righteous; he is not made righteous. It is not just as if I had never sinned. We are covered, we are given someone else's righteousness.
20) The model is Abraham. The picture of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3 gives us this picture of righteousness. The Old Testament always gives us those images. Zechariah 3:1-6, "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan [Satan is the accuser of the believer] standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke you, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke you: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments [picture of the sinner], and stood before the angel. And he answered and spoke unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with robes." It is that clothing with robes that is the picture of imputation. We are clothed with Christ's righteousness. It is His righteousness, not our righteousness. It is His righteousness that God looks at and declares us to be just.