By Pastor Dean Harvey - A Transcript from his daily radio show "A Voice in the Wilderness"
A young businessman friend, Lars Berntson, preached in our church recently, and had a series entitled Whose Righteousness Anyway?, which, with his permission, I am going to share over the next few weeks. A true Christian has the mind of Christ about sin. That is, with the Holy Spirit's illumination, he sees sin the same way as Christ sees it. Sin is the root of the problem Christ came to solve. His illumination helps us to see how ugly sin really is. But there is a sneaky little doctrine that often causes Christians to be less vigilant about sin-the doctrine of imputed righteousness. This doctrine usually holds that God imputes (accounts, or lays to our account) Christ's righteousness to us. The result is that, no matter the kind of life we are living, no matter what sins are present in our lives, God looks at us and only sees the righteousness of Christ. In other words, this doctrine often says that God does not see us as we are, but as Christ is.
Those who hold to this doctrine are quick to point out that "our righteousness is as filthy rags." This phrase is from Isa. 64:6, and is usually applied without distinction to all men, both Christians and non-Christians. If you read this verse in its context, you will find that it is talking about those who sinned, and continued in them a long time, and it is contrasted with those mentioned in the previous verse, "Thou (God) dost meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness..." So the phrase applies to those who are living in sin, it does not apply to those "who rejoice in doing righteousness," it did not apply to righteous Jews, and it does not apply to Christians who are living up to the light they have today. But many people quote the part of a verse, "all our righteousness are as filthy rags," and apply it broadly.
Is Christ's righteousness credited to our account, no matter how we are living? Can Christ be righteous for us? Can His righteousness be transferred to us? Have you ever heard that God sees saved people through the Righteous One-Jesus Christ? That He doesn't see our sinfulness, He sees Jesus' righteousness. Does God really see us through "Jesus-colored glasses?" Are we to be righteous, or can Jesus be righteous for us? Is Christ's righteousness imputed to us in this way?."
There are two important questions which need to be asked regarding the doctrine of imputed righteousness. 1. Does God want us to be personally righteous? And 2. Can Christ be righteous for us? But in order to answer those questions, we need to look at the word "impute." Impute is a King James word, which means to charge with, to reckon, or to account to. Impute is a bookkeeping term, which has the concept of a ledger entry. The doctrine of imputed righteousness would be seen as God making a ledger entry into our lives. We are actually sinful, but God imputes, or makes a ledger entry, into our lives, of Christ's righteousness. So the Christian who has been taught this doctrine will feel secure in his Christian experience, regardless of his own personal righteousness, because he believes that God sees him through Christ's righteousness. The word is used in 2 Cor 5:19 (KJV), "...God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them..." Since the word "impute" means to charge with, to reckon, or to account to, this verse teaches that those who have been reconciled to God will not be charged with sin. In the Bible, God imputes both sin and righteousness. In checking eight references for the word "impute," four of them like 2 Cor. 5:19, refer to God imputing sin. What does this mean? It means that God would charge those with sin who are sinners because they are guilty of sin, or, that God, in forgiving repentant sinners, would not charge them with sin, but rather count them righteous because they are no longer guilty, they have been forgiven. Hallelujah!
In Psalm 32:2, David says, "How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit." Paul quotes this verse in Rom. 4:8. The definition of the word "impute" we often hear today is that God applies His righteousness to the account of the believer, even though they are not really righteous. This definition seems plausible, but if God will impute righteousness to the account of the believer, then how does He impute sin? Righteousness was imputed to Abraham, the father of the faithful. We learn about him in Romans 4 and James 2. Both passages should be read to shed light on the meaning of the word "impute." The reason God imputed (counted) Abraham righteous was because, having believed God for forgiveness and having begun a life of faith, he was righteous. In the same way, we too, when we recognize our need for forgiveness, forsake our sinful ways and sinful mindset, turn to the Savior for forgiveness on the basis of His shed blood on our behalf, and are justified; at that point God imputes righteousness to us. Who can be more righteous than the one who has just been forgiven of all his sins? God imputes righteousness to us because we have become righteous through our salvation experience. That is what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 1:30, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." After He has canceled the decree against us, removed our sins.
Tomorrow Part 2........