2.30 Imputed Righteousness

2.30 The basis of our salvation is that we are justified, counted righteous, by our faith and baptism into the representative sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. His righteousness is thereby counted to us. Imputed righteousness is the key to salvation.

Throughout Romans, the point is made that the Lord counts as righteous those that believe; righteousness is imputed to us the unrighteous by our faith (Rom. 2:26; 4:3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,22,23,24; 8:36; 9:8).

The extent of Divine forgiveness and imputed righteousness is hard for us to plumb, because we inevitably tend to compare His forgiveness with the experience we have had of it at the hands of men. God describes a forgiven Israel as ‘attaining to innocency’ (Hos. 8:5). How can a person convicted of sin ever be pronounced genuinely ‘innocent’? Human forgiveness can never achieve that. Only by being clothed in the righteousness of Christ can such a position be attained.

The degree to which righteousness is imputed to us is hard to feel. Dt. 32:12 states that there was no strange God with Israel- but Ez. 20 says they took the idols of Egypt with them. God counted wayward Israel as righteous; at that time, as Balaam said, God did not see iniquity in Israel, nor behold the perversity that was in Jacob. Paul speaks of the fruits of righteousness, the same Greek word translated " justification" (Phil. 1:11). Justification by faith brings forth fruits of righteousness. When the disciples argued about who should be the greatest, the Lord replied that " it is not so among you: whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister" (Mk .10:43 R. V.). He expected them to live up to the righteousness which He imputed to them.

Disregarding Others' Judgment Of Us

If God is our justifier, and imputed righteousness is a reality to us, where is he that condemns us, or lays any guilt to our charge (Rom. 8:33,34)? And yet in family life, at work, in ecclesial relationships...we are so so quick to feel and hurt from the possible insinuations of others against us. We seek to justify ourselves, to correct gossip and misrepresentation, to " take up" an issue to clear our name. We all tend to be far too sensitive about what others may be implying about us. All this reflects a sad lack of appreciation of the wonder of the fact that we are justified by God, and in His eyes- which is surely the ultimately important perspective- we are without fault before the throne of grace, covered in the imputed and peerless righteousness of the Lord.Paul, misrepresented and slandered more than most brethren, came to conclude: " But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me [right now] is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:3-4). The judge is the justifier, according to this argument. Paul is not justified by himself or by other men, because they are not his judge. The fact that God alone is judge through Christ [another first principle] means that nobody can ultimately justify us or condemn us. " Many seek the favour of the ruler ['judge']; but every man's judgment cometh from the Lord" (Prov. 29:26). The false claims of others can do nothing to ultimately damage us, and our own efforts at self-justification are in effect a denial of the fact that the Lord is the judge, not us, and therefore He alone can and will justify. In appealing to the Corinthians not to take each other to court, Paul reasons: " Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom?" (1 Cor. 6:9). He uses the " know ye not?" rubric several times in his writings (e.g. 6:19 in this context) to point the new converts back to the implications of the basic doctrines they had recently converted to. If we believe that there will be a righteous judgment, and those responsible who have sinned will suffer the awful experience of rejection…then why seek to judge them yourself, in this life? Why worry about the prosperity of the wicked within the ecclesia if you really believe that the wicked will not be in the Kingdom? That is such an awful thing that one need not worry about trying to judge them ourselves in this life. Take comfort in the fact that judgment is coming…that's Paul's message, built as it is on the implications of basic doctrines.

Not Pleasing Men

These thoughts are meshed with another first principle in Jn. 5:44, where the RVmg. has the Lord telling the Jews that they sought glory " one of another" because they didn't seek the glory that comes from the one God. Because there is only one God, there is only one glory, one Name of God, one standard of spirituality, one judge, one justifier. Whilst men seek glory and approbation and acceptance and justification from other men, they are denying the principle of one God. If there is only one God, we should seek His honour and justification, to the total exclusion of that of men. Hosea had revealed this truth earlier: " I am the Lord thy God...and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me...neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee [i.e. thee alone] the fatherless findeth mercy" (Hos. 13:4; 14:3). Because God alone can give salvation and mercy, therefore there is no space for worshipping or seeking for the approbation of anything or anyone else; for the receipt of mercy and salvation are the only ultimate things worth seeking. There is only one God who can give them, who can give imputed righteousness, and therefore we should seek for His acceptance alone.

Positive Self Image

But the very same Greek word is used in Romans of our self-perception. We must count / impute ourselves as righteous men and women, and count each other as righteous on the basis of recognizing each others' faith rather than works: " Therefore we conclude [we count / impute / consider] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law... Likewise reckon [impute] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" . (Rom. 3:28; 6:11). We should feel clean and righteous, and act accordingly, both in our own behaviour and in our feelings towards each other. The mind of love imputes no evil to others, as God doesn't to us (1 Cor. 13:5; AV " thinketh no evil" , s.w. to count / impute in Romans). And again the word occurs in 2 Cor 3:5: " Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think [s.w. impute] any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" . We are able to count / feel to ourselves as righteous; for God has counted us righteous. And if we can believe this, we will overcome that difficulty which there is within every one of us of truly counting our brother to be righteous, of having the love that truly believes and sees only the best in others. 2 Pet. 1:1 RV speaks of us as having faith in the imputed righteousness of our God and our Saviour Jesus. We cannot believe in imputed righteousness unless we have firmly set our faith in the fact and appreciation of the fact that the Father and Son are there, and they are righteous. This may sound obvious. But if we do really believe it, we cannot be idle in this knowledge of Christ; it will elicit in us a response (:8 RV).

Positive About Others

We will perceive that others too are counted as righteous because they are in Christ, and we will likewise seek to count them as having imputed righteousness even as we feel and know God has so counted us. In a poorly translated verse, Paul seeks to persuade Philemon to think more highly of his renegade brother Onesimus: " That the communication [RV fellowship] of thy faith may become effectual [through] the acknowledging of every good thing that is in you in Christ" (Philemon 6). The power to share our faith is rooted in realizing that we have been counted righteous through our being in Christ. As God reckons us righteous, so we must reckon each other (Rom. 3:28; 4:3,5,24 RV). This is an immense challenge, but it comes directly from the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Our being justified / counted righteous by God's grace is the very basis and essence of our salvation. And yet, as ever, we can't be passive to this wonder. We too are to seek to count others as righteous, seeing them for who they are as 'in Christ'. Every time we are sinned against, or perceive the weakness and spiritual incompletion in our brother or sister who is in Christ... we have a wonderful opportunity to count them as righteous, in the same way as we are counted righteous through being in Christ. The Hebrew word tsadaq, to count righteous, to justify, is used about our justification of others in Dan. 12:3- those who count many as righteous will shine as the stars for ever [AV "turn many to righteousness" rather misleadingly gives the idea of converting others by preaching, but that's not the idea of the Hebrew].

Gripped By Grace

The wonder of justification by grace should grip us. If we truly perceive it, we can no longer be passive. The antithesis between the Christian life and the life of bourgeois respectability is at an end. No longer can we cling to our comfortable secular existence and simply go to church and glance at a Bible. We will be gripped by grace to show forth a similar generosity to others.


Hab. 2:4 is the classic OT passage about imputed righteousness, but the contrast is between those who are proud, and the justified-by-faith who are humble.


" Being therefore justified by faith, let us have peace...let us rejoice...let us also rejoice in our tribulations" (Rom. 5:1-3 RV). If we really feel justified due to righteousness being imputed to us, then this will give us a joyful perspective on all suffering. For the reality that we are counted righteous will mean that all tribulation " under the sun" is not so ultimately meaningful; and thus we will find all joy and peace through believing.

Participating In His Representation

It is exactly because the Lord Jesus was and is our representative, that we can have His righteousness imputed to us. Yet a caveat needs to be sounded, I feel, about baldly stating that Jesus is either our representative or our substitute. Whilst I firmly go for ‘representative’ as opposed to ‘substitute’, the fact the Lord is our representative doesn’t mean that we simply gape at Him in wonder and admiration, as a Roman Catholic may gaze at an icon of Jesus. The fact He is our representative beckons us to active participation in His life and self-sacrifice; even to the death of the cross, however that may be articulated in our lives. Being Christ’s representative, as He was ours, demands transformation. It has astutely been observed: “It is not about substitution, the replacement of something old by something new, but about transformation, the turning of the already existing to new account”(1).

(1) Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement In Christian History (New York: Orbis, 1998) p. 28.

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