Thursday, March 06, 2008

...the imputation of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ

I have still been receiving several emails raising important questions on the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ Jesus in our justification. This topic was even asked of Dr. MacArthur at the 2008 Shepherds' Conference this morning in a Q and A time (excellent session).

The following, by Charles Spurgeon, I trust will bring further clarity on this great truth and be an encouragement in your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ in the atonement of His people chosen before the world began (Eph. 1:4-14).

With Resurrection Weekend fastly approaching, I pray this article will not just be another source of theological information, but biblical truth that causes us all to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ Jesus our risen Lord! How great is our salvation; how awesome is the One who wrought our redemption for us. He is our Federal Head in the covenant of redemption; our great High Priest; God's unspeakable gift; our glorious wonderful, merciful Savior!

In the shadow of the cross,
2 Cor. 5:21

"This is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.
-Jeremiah 23:6.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down
at the right hand of the throne of God.
-Hebrews 12:2

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of
our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been
crucified to me, and I to the world.
-Galatians 6:14

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
-2 Corinthians 5:21

by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

MAN BY THE FALL sustained an infinite loss in the matter of righteousness.
He suffered the loss of a righteous nature, and then a two-fold loss of legal righteousness in the sight of God. Man sinned; he was therefore no longer innocent of transgression. Man did not keep the command; he therefore was guilty of the sin of omission. In that which he committed, and in that which he omitted, his original character for uprightness was completely wrecked. Jesus Christ came to undo the mischief of the fall for his people. So far as their sin concerned their breach of the command, that he has removed by his precious blood. His agony and bloody sweat have for ever taken away the consequences of sin from believers, seeing Christ did by his one sacrifice bear the penalty of that sin in his flesh. He, his own self, bare our sins in his own body on the tree. (Gen. 3)

Still it is not enough for a man to be pardoned.
He, of course, is then in the eye of God without sin. But it was required of man that he should actually keep the command. It was not enough that he did not break it, or that he is regarded through the blood as though he did not break it. He must keep it, he must continue in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. How is this necessity supplied? Man must have a righteousness, or God cannot accept him. Man must have a perfect obedience, or else God cannot reward him. Should He give heaven to a soul that has not perfectly kept the law; that were to give the reward where the service is not done, and that before God would be an act which might impeach his justice. (Rom. 3:21-26)

Where, then, is the righteousness with which the pardoned man shall be completely covered, so that God can regard him as having kept the law, and reward him for so doing?
Surely, my brethren, none of you are so besotted as to think that this righteousness can be wrought out by yourselves. You must despair of ever being able to keep the law perfectly. Each day you sin. Since you have passed from death unto life, the old Adam still struggles for dominion within you. And by the force of the lusts of the flesh you are brought into captivity to the law of sin which is in your members. The good you would do, you do not, and the evil you would not, that you too often do. Some have thought the works of the Holy Spirit in us would give us a righteousness in which we might stand. I am sure, my brethren, we would not say a word derogatory to the cork of the Holy Spirit. It is divine. But we hold it to be a great cardinal point in divinity that the work of the Spirit never meant to supplant the merits of the Son. We could not depreciate the Lord Jesus Christ in order to exalt the office of the Holy Spirit of God. We know that each particular branch of the divine salvation which was espoused by the persons of the Trinity has been carried out by each one to perfection. (2 Cor. 5:21)

Now as we are accepted in the Beloved, it must be by a something that the Beloved did;
as we are justified in Christ it must be by a something not that the Spirit has done, but which Christ has done. We must believe, then,—for there is no other alternative—that the righteousness in which we must be clothed, and through which we must be accepted, and by which we are made meet to inherit eternal life, can be no other than the work of Jesus Christ. We, therefore, assert, believing that Scripture fully warrants us, that the life of Christ constitutes the righteousness in which his people are to be clothed. His death washed away their sins, his life covered them from head to foot; his death [for] the sneaky [the surreptitious] to God, his life was the gift to man, by which man satisfies the demands of the law. Herein the law is honored and the soul is accepted. (Rom. 4-5:1-2)

I find that many young Christians who are very clear about being saved by the merits of Christ's death, do not seem to understand the merits of his life.
Remember, young believers, that from the first moment when Christ did lie in the cradle until the time when he ascended up on high, he was at work for his people; and from the moment when he was seen in Mary's arms, till the instant when in the arms of death he "bowed his head and gave up the ghost," he was at work for your salvation and mine. He completed the work of obedience in his life, and said to his Father, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." Then he completed the work of atonement in his death, and knowing that all things were accomplished, he cried, "It is finished." He was through his life spinning the web for making the royal garment, and in his death he dipped that garment in his blood. In his life he was gathering together the precious gold, in his death he hammered it out to make for us a garment which is of wrought gold. You have as much to thank Christ for living as for dying, and you should be as reverently and devoutly grateful for his spotless life as for his terrible and fearful death. (Heb. 2:9-18)

The text speaking of Christ, the son of David, the branch out of the root of Jesse, styles him THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

so far from being an exceptional case with regard to the righteousness of Christ, lies at the very bottom of the entire teaching of Scripture. How did we fall, my brethren? We fell by the imputation of Adam's sin to us. Adam was our federal head; he represented us; and when he sinned, we sinned representatively in him, and what he did was imputed to us. You say that you never agreed to the imputation. Nay, but I would not have you say thus, for as by representation we fell, it is by the representative system that we rise. The angels fell personally and individually, and they never rise, but we fell in another, and we have therefore the power given by divine grace to rise in another. The root of the fall is found in the federal relationship of Adam to his seed; thus we fell by imputation. Is it any wonder that we should rise by imputation? Deny this doctrine, and I ask you—How are men pardoned at all? Are they not pardoned because satisfaction has been offered for sin by Christ? Very well then, but that satisfaction must be imputed to them, or else how is God just in giving to them the results of the death of another, unless that death of the other be fire? of all imputed to them? (Psalm 32:1-5)

When we say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to an believing souls, we do not hold forth an exceptional theory, but we expound a grand truth, which is so consistent with the theory of the fall and the plan of pardon, that it must be maintained in order to make the gospel clear.
I think it was this doctrine which Martin Luther called the article of standing or falling of the Church. I find a passage in his works which seems to me to refer to this doctrine rather than to justification by faith. He ought certainly to have said, "Justification by faith is the doctrine of standing or falling of the Church." But in Luther's mind, imputed righteousness we, so interwoven with justification by faith, that he could not see any distinction between the two. And I must confess, in trying to observe a difference, I do not see much. I must give up justification by faith if I give up imputed righteousness. True justification by faith is the surface soil, but then imputed righteousness is the granite rock which lies underneath it; and if you dig down through the great truth of a sinners being justified by faith in Christ, you must, as I believe, inevitably come to the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ as the basis and foundation on which that simple doctrine rests. (Galatians 3)


jazzycat said...

Good points. Over at the Devoted Life site you were mentioned. This is a very good response to their challenge.

Mike Ratliff said...

I believe that the reason this topic won't go or fade away is that God has deemed that we must get it right. It seems that the reality of God's complete sovereignty over our salvation becomes clearer and clearer as we unpack these truths. Yes, we must not flinch and not stand behind these truths simply because other brothers and sisters in Christ don't agree.

No, God doesn't need us, but we desperatly need Him. We need both Christ's active and passive Righteousness. Why? Without Christ's Righteousness ours is as filthy rags.

Great Post Steve.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Jeremy Weaver said...

I found myself a couple of years ago questioning this doctrine of Christ's active obedience. The verse that really put things inot perspective for me was this;
But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (Gal 3:12)
Here Paul quotes from the Old Testament and tells us that the one who does the law will live. Not that the pesron who does them is given life by the law, but that the law is powerless to take the obedient one's life. The problem then with the law is not that it cannot reward, but that it cannot give righteousness. Paul in Romans says again very clearly that there is nothing wrong with the law, but the problem is with our sinful nature's reponse to the law.
The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Rom 7:10-13)

Jeremy Weaver said...

Sorry...that may have seemed a bit off topic.
The point is this:
Those who deny Christ's active obedience continually level the charge that the law cannot give righteousness. I agree. But it can reward righteousness. Therefore, Christ, who should have been rewarded (blessed) by the law, since He kept it perfectly, became accursed by the law so that we might be found blessed by the law, not in our own righteousness, but in Christ's which He imputes to us.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

donsands said...

Excellent words to reflect upon. Thanks for this wonderful post.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

ljchan said...

Amen! I have long lived by the doctrine of faith by justification, being somewhat aware of imputed righteousness, (I am so not a theologian) but it has only been recently that it has become far more clear to me, and it has made a very great difference in my faith, my life. "True justification by faith is the surface soil, but then imputed righteousness is the granite rock which lies underneath it". What blessed words! What granite rock of security it gives us when the enemy accuses, when we are all too aware of our own sinfulness! And yet we stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ!

Thanks, Steve, for another great post. Do you ever sleep?

Chris said...


I once came to one or your concerts in Detroit, MI (temple baptist). There was a terrible snow storm that night. Your trailer had been stopped and couldn't get through. But you persisted and came and performed on the church piano without a band. To this day I say it was one of the best concerts I had ever been too!

Having stumbled across some things that you have written regarding Brian McClaren I'm having a hard time balancing much of your "rhetoric" towards him and much of your music (Don't tell them Jesus loves them until your ready to love them too). The two seem diametrically (sp) opposed.

While I understand that your trying to maintain the authority of scripture; I don't get how you miss "All the law is summed up in these two...Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself".

Feel free to email me at


Jeremy Weaver said...

I already commented here too!

Michele Rayburn said...

“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully”...(1 Timothy 1:8)

As I was reading the last few blog posts and comments about the law and the gospel, the thought came to mind that Jesus died under the law which was composed of God’s law but also man’s laws. And Jesus was subjected to man’s faulty interpretation of both God’s law and their own laws. As a result, Jesus was wrongly accused of breaking the law and was wrongfully put to death.

The Bible says “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19) In this case, we were righteously judged by God to be unable to keep His law, and would be condemned if it were not for our faith in the Lawgiver, Jesus Christ.

But, Jesus died under the law which was implemented by sinful men, so that they could not be trusted to implement the law perfectly. Then as now, the law is often, accidentally or on purpose, used to either judge an innocent man to be guilty or to judge a guilty man to be innocent.

If even Jesus can be found guilty under the law by men, then who could ever expect to be judged righteously by men.

If we as believers should ever hope to be perfect law-keepers on this earth, it will kill us, mentally, spiritually and even physically, because we could never “measure up” to God’s law. But more than that, the law as interpreted by sinful man will always have us falling short, because so often our lawgivers and “spiritual leaders” are misguided as to what is lawful and what is not, and what is sinful and what is not. And so, if we trust in men, and look to them for acceptance and assurance, we will always find ourselves under a cloud of guilt and condemnation.

But thank the Lord, it says in Romans 7:6, “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and *not* in the oldness of the letter.”

Paul the Apostle cries out in despair and asks, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

And then he answers his own question, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

And Paul goes on to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

gigantor1231 said...


It is a amazing thing to me that there are so many that do not equate truth with Love! In other words, if you confront someone with the truth you are considered judgmental and critical. Of course, to Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones and all other emergent gurus and their emergent disciples just the implication that you know the truth is arrogant and considered evil! What a sad lot, may God have mercy on them.

donsands said...

"if you confront someone with the truth you are considered judgmental and critical."

Even the verse of Scripture that used to be such a powerful statement of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been questioned.

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one can come to the Father except through Me." John 14:6

I heard Erwin McManus say God didn't mean for this verse to exclude people. Now, I don't know a whole lot about Erwin, and I have heard some good things, but this verse is what it says.

Jesus meant WHAT He said. It's not us, those who speak this truth in love.

Just felt like sharing somethings on my heart. Hope you don't mind.

gigantor1231 said...


Wow, if McManus is saying what he appears to be saying, is he ever off. We are merely his vessels that He uses to sow, water and harvest but it is Him who brings the increase and draws all men to Himself. Our job is to decrease that He might increase. No glory and no credit to me but let it all be to Him alone!

donsands said...

I heard a sound bite of one of his sermons on Jim's 'Old Truth' a while back, and it wasn't as if Erwin was denying the Lord is the Way, but we need to not preach it like it's so inclusive.

And I've noticed this same spirit in others like McLaren and Campolo.

It's a spirit of error IMO.

"Beloved, trust not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God: because MANY false prophets are gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1

We test and prove the spirits by the Word of God, and through the history of the Church, where the Holy Spirit has been, and is sovereign.

Sorry if this is to off subject.

gigantor1231 said...


Hmmmm, I am not trying to be apocalyptic here but could it be that these folks are under a deluding spirit as it speaks of in 2 Thess., could this be the beginning of the Apostasy? I know that every generation has probably had something like this but this time it is so different with the technology of the internet. Well, it is a sure thing that we are in interesting and perilous times and we need to hold closer and know more deeply the Word of God!

Fred said...


Here is a link on a semon by Owen's that is on perilous times. This is also fitting with the topic on Driscoll that has generated so much controversy.