Imputed Righteousness

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.[Romans 4:23-25 ESV]

In these studies, meekness recognizes the strength of God working within and through the one who is His. Meekness is one of the characteristics of the citizen of God’s kingdom. Those who are meek have relinquished control of themselves to their Creator and are obedient to Him.

While obedience is work, requiring great effort to fight against the temptations of the world, obedience is a responsibility and is expected. To this end, God gives those who are His both the tools needed to combat the tugs and pulls of the world and the strength and training to wield His tools.

One of the tools He gives is righteousness. God imputed righteousness to those who are His. This word “imputed” means to reckon, to make an account of. It is both a legal term and a financial term and may refer to either a gift or a punishment. Legally, one person will take credit for what someone else has done or given. Financially, the gift is considered a credit. A credit is an addition to one’s finances while a debit is a subtraction from one’s finances. Legally, a credit gives someone full control over what is given. In the case of a bequest, credit means one receives all of the benefit and all of the responsibilities and privileges of an action done by another.  Imputed gifts are real not theoretical or an apparition.

With this understanding and the demand the word refers to a reality not a supposition we can now look at how it is used. God does not change and His intent throughout Scripture is consistent. He does not change and what He has decided from before creation remains within His decrees. Throughout Scripture God is perfectly consistent in His application of “imputation.”

Romans 4 uses the word “imputed” or “counted” eleven times. “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed) to him as righteousness’” [Romans 4:3 ESV].  In most of Romans righteousness is imputed because of faith, never because of works. In the context, “works” are those activities done for the sole purpose of making oneself right with God. Doing this reveals the motivation of trying force God’s indebtedness to the person who works. Such works are an act of idolatry as the person tries to manipulate God in order to justify themselves through perceived loopholes in the divine moral code. Instead of being given a righteous stance before God they seek to earn the position.

“We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” [Romans 3:19-20 ESV]

All these works earn are God’s wrath. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” [Romans 3:28 ESV].

So, righteousness is delivered to the citizen of the kingdom through the conduit of faith. It is a gift, a grace and cannot be earned but can be rejected.

Speaking of Himself, Jesus quotes Isaiah 53, “I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’” [Luke 22:37; cf. Isaiah 53:12]. He took upon Himself our sin, it was imputed to Him, and gave us His righteousness, it was imputed to us.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
[Isaiah 53:1-12 EV]

If Christ takes upon Himself our sin does this then mean He is a sinner? No! He was viewed by God as a sinner, our sin credited to Him, He enduring the sentence for our sin. Though our sin was credited to Him, imputed to Him by God, He remained sinless. A sinless man died for sinful Man.

In the same way God viewed Jesus covered with our sin He views us covered with Christ’s righteousness. We are not intrinsically righteous but sinful. We are covered, credited, with Christ’s blood so when God looks at us He sees the blood of His Son thus viewing us with Christ’s righteousness. We are no more righteous because of His righteousness than He is a sinner because of our sin. We are no less righteous than what God sees when He views us through Christ. What matters is not what we are, or do, or aspire for, but who God is, what He does, How He sees us. This mystery is beyond comprehension. We must wait for eternity, when God finishes His work in us for a righteousness intrinsic to our being.

Still, we continue to sin. We do not ignore our sin but mourn over its consequences. Meekness not only sees the truth of continued sin and the agony over the full extent of what sin does but views God’s benevolent consistency in  loving those who are His. Jesus makes a startling statement to those who seek to earn God’s favor.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” [John 10:27-30 ESV]

The entire first half of Romans addresses the issues of sin, of faith and Christ’s righteousness given to us. A righteous person does not continue sinning. However, those credited with righteousness, who are not intrinsically righteous, will continue struggling with sin. John, in 1 John, tackles this problem, telling us, like Paul, like Jesus, we must obey God’s commands and direction, and when we don’t we will not lose our standing before God, but must confess and then obey.

Righteousness is ours. It has been credited to us. Our assurance is in Christ’s work, His blood, the work of the Holy Spirit and the legal viewpoint of God, all tempered with grace. Through faith God delivers to us the righteousness which is His to give and ours to receive. We can do nothing for it. Any work we do thinking it will make us right before God is sin. Any work we do out of sheer obedience to Him is not sin. Obedience is expected by God of those who are His.

Righteousness and its use in combating the unrighteousness of the world is had solely by grace.


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