The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (V)


As noted already, some reject the idea of propitiation because they do not believe any true wrath exists in an “all-loving” God. Thus, they reject the idea that the atonement could have anything to do with propitiating (averting) God’s wrath. Such folks know very little of the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture. Others, and this includes some brethren, reject propitiation not because they fail to appreciate God’s wrath against sin and sinners, but because they believe Jesus’ sacrificial death, apart from any propitiatory effect, was sufficient to expiate (remit or take away), our sins. One reason for this is that they reject the idea that our sins were imputed to Jesus (viz., put to His account) as He suffered and died on our behalf. Truth is, and I pray for the day when many of my brethren come to grips with this, the NT unequivocally teaches the imputation (reckoning) of our sins to Christ on the cross (cf. Isa. 53:6b,8,11-12; 1 Pet. 2:24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), as well as the imputation (accounting or reckoning) of God’s righteousness to us by faith (cf. Rom. 4:3, 5-6, 9, 11, 22-23; Gal. 3:6). In fact, there’s not the first thing wrong with the concept of imputation (a reckoning or putting to one’s account) unless some Calvinist has been messing with it.

The Imputation Of Our Sins To Christ

According to the dictionary, the verb “impute” means “to attribute or ascribe” something to another (usually discreditable). Therefore, “imputation” means “the act of imputing. This is what Isaiah 53:6b is talking about when it says, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b), or, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Pet. 2:24, HCSB). All of which sounds a whole lot like Jesus “tasted death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). That is to say, Christ “is the propitiation for [peri] our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). The preposition peri is most often translated as “concerning” or “about” in the KJV. It indicates the focal point from which an action proceeds—namely, that Jesus, as the propitiation (halismon), was the very basis for appeasing (averting) God’s judicial wrath “concerning,” “regarding,” or “in reference to” our sins. This was done, Paul says, “For our sake” in that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Now, if this isn’t teaching the imputation or attribution of our sins to Jesus, then what on earth is it teaching?

A Judicial Death

Even so, brethren object to the imputation of our sins to Jesus by raising the old Calvinism bugaboo:

Substitution is essential to Calvinism. Predestination, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the impossibility of apostasy all depend on substitution as their solid foundation. And, substitution is bound together with the imputation of sin to Christ and imputation of His righteousness to the elect” (Maurice Barnett, Reconciliation, pp. 166-167).

Yes, brother Barnett is correct in his description of five-point Calvinism, but Calvinism is a man-made systematic theology and none—not one!—of it five points (T-U-L-I-P) is taught in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the imputation of our sins to Jesus, as the previous paragraph indicates, is well attested to in Scripture. It is not high time, then, that brethren permitted the Bible to define its terms rather than the Calvinists?

The Imputation Of God’s Righteousness To Us

As already noted, there are NT passages that teach the imputation of God’s righteousness to obedient believers in certain pertinent passages in the KJV (Rom. 4:3, 5-6, 9, 11, 22-23; Gal. 3:6). Logizomai, which is the word used here, is variously translated as “counted,” “imputed,” “imputeth,” “reckoned,” and “accounted.” Thus, the idea it conveys is not difficult to understand. Essentially, all one needs to do to understand it is not to be working so hard to explain it away, fearing, as some do, that the use of the word “imputation” somehow relinquishes the field to the Calvinists. It doesn’t, and the sooner one realizes this, the sooner he can get on with finding out what the Bible really teaches on this subject.

Although no flesh has any cause to glory in His presence (1 Cor. 1:29), because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), as we become obedient to Christ, we do receive a “righteousness of God” that is not our own (Rom. 1:17; 3:21, 22; 10:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Php. 3:9). The New Testament refers to this as imputed righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:11, 23-25). Some—the Calvinists are notorious for this—have mistakenly thought that the righteousness imputed to the obedient believer entails Jesus’ perfect life. In other words, many wrongly think that God no longer sees the sins of His saints when He views them. According to this doctrine, when God looks at Christians, He only sees the “perfect doings” of Jesus while He was here on this earth—perfect doings which have now been imputed or accredited to us. This view is completely false!

The righteousness imputed to the obedient believer is not derived directly from the Lord’s perfect life. Instead, our imputed righteousness derives from the fact that Jesus’ sacrificial death propitiated God’s wrath against us as sinners and expiated (satisfied) the debt we owed for our sins: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). This is a difficult, but important, passage for a variety of reasons. One of these is that it is used by Calvinists to prove their doctrine of the imputation of Jesus’ own perfect doing (or righteousness) to the believer. But what they, and others, fail to appreciate is that this passage is not referring to Jesus’ active/righteousness, but to His passive righteousness, which, when correctly understood, changes the whole tenor of things.

We plan to continue our thoughts on this in the next post in this series

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