Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 16, 1963
NUMBER 3, PAGE 8-12c-13a

Marriage - As God Would Have It - (No. 5)

Gene Frost

The Imputation Theory

An act violating law is sin. (1 John 3:4) Theorists in their attempt to justify violators of Christ's will (Matthew 19) have reasoned that under Christ grace and mercy overlook the consequences (sin), or Christ removes His law (antinomianism), or God refuses to recognize the conduct (the imputation theory). To this latter theory we now give attention.

"Impute" means "to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; take into account, to make account of" (page 379, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, logizomia). Paul uses the term in speaking of the law and of the hearing of faith: "He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Gal. 3:5,6) James uses the same term in further explanation of the accounting, or imputation, of righteousness to Abraham: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." (Jas. 2:21-23) When Abraham obeyed God, and it could be said of him that he believed God, God counted him righteousness, "such as he ought to be....upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God." (Page 148, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, dikaios)

And so it is with every sinner: when he obeys God — believes, repents, and is baptized for a remission of sins — God counts him righteous; he is no longer regarded a sinner.

But the imputation theorist in true Calvinistic style wrests the meaning of the word "impute" to convey the idea that God gives the sinner a cloak of godliness whereas in reality he lives in disobedience. Calvinists go further to reason that when this cloak (the "righteousness of Christ") is receive d, then henceforth God sees nothing in the person save the righteousness of His Son, whereas in reality the person may be committing every unlawful act; hence he can never fall. This is the basis of the "eternal security" doctrine. John Fletcher, in contending with Calvinism that was invading the Wesleyan movement, evaluated their doctrine thus: "This garment of their own weaving they cast over adulterers and murderers, and then represent the filthy, bloody wretches, as complete in Christ's obedience, perfect in righteousness, and 'undefiled' before God!" (Page 390, Vol. 1, Checks to Antinomianism, 1819) His description of the theory is correctly set forth:

"Consistent Calvinists believe that if a man be elected, God absolutely imputes to him Christ's personal righteousness, i.e., the perfect obedience unto death which Christ performed upon the earth. This is reckoned to him for obedience and righteousness even while he is actually disobedient, and before he has a grain of inherent righteousness....And therefore, under this imputation, he is perfectly righteous before God, even while he commits adultery and murder....In point of justification therefore, it matters not how unrighteous a believer actually is in himself: because the robe of Christ's personal righteousness, which, at his peril, he must not attempt to patch up with any personal righteousness of his own, is more than sufficient to adorn him from head to foot: and he must be sure to appear before God in no other." (Page 384, Vol. I, Ibid.)

No doubt it will seem to the reader that we have made a harsh charge to state that among our brethren are men who teach this pernicious theory. We are told that men are not righteous because they do righteousness (1 John 3:7), but because Christ's righteousness is counted (imputed) as theirs. Since God sees only this righteousness, then the act of adultery is not seen, and so the adulterers may continue on in their illicit relationship. Furthermore, they must not cease the adulteries lest they become guilty of seeking justification by law. We now quote an "imputation theorist" to this end.

"He will not commit adultery in the future, because the righteousness that belonged to Christ is now counted as his." (And so, though the act (adultery) is the same, God does not reckon it adultery but righteousness!)

"It may be absurd to think that personal character can be transferred to another, but it is more absurd to contend that one becomes righteous through obedience to a law of works."

By a "law of works" the theorist means obedience to God's will necessitated by repentance, i.e., the cessation of the adulterous act. He reasons that to cease adultery before baptism is to be justified by a "law of works"; hence, he must not. Then in baptism Christ's righteousness is imputed to hint so that the act is no more regarded adulterous, but righteous! Notice:

"If they are righteous as if they kept all of God's laws and are counted as if they broke none of God's laws, why do those previously married in adultery have to separate" Though they entered this relationship in violation of God's law, and sin is violation of law, God does not impute this sin to them. He counts them as being righteous. They do not have to separate for the same reason the righteous do not have to separate. They are righteous because God has imputed righteousness to them."

In Answer

The entire argument assumes that Christ's righteousness is imputed to the sinner, and this is not so! Neither does "impute" mean to account to one's credit righteousness when he himself is disobedient. They who live in violation of God's will — without repentance — are never justified or counted righteous "as if they kept all of God's laws."

The absurdity of the theory is readily noted when applied to other sinful acts besides adultery. Does "imputation" mean that one may continue to worship idols, to steal, to murder, etc.? Why not? When this question is answered, the theorist will have answered his own argument on adultery! Too, remove the civil sanction and apply the consequences. Thusly, if a man has a mistress (living in adultery with her), according to the theory when he becomes a Christian he may continue in this relationship; yea, he must! A polygamist must continue in his polygamy (and this point we shall discuss further in considering the fruits of the theories).

The theory is so ridiculous, we shall not honor it with further comment.

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