Romans chapter 4 is all about imputation. The doctrine of imputation is the foundation of our justification. We can never overstate the importance of the doctrine of imputation. Without it we cannot be saved and we cannot understand the glorious benefit of our union with Christ.
But what does imputation mean? In Romans 4 it is the word counted. This is a legal, and business word. A transaction. Legizomai in Greek. We are saved because Christ’s righteousness has been counted to us. It has been counted to us by our union with Christ.
Romans 4:3-11. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
Romans 4:20-24. but [Abraham] grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,
So, as you can see this word is kind of a big deal.
Imputation occurs when we declare someone to be something that they are not. Often this can bring change to a person’s life, but we must beware of any kind of manipulation or deception (calling someone something just so that they will change).
In the gospel, imputation is God giving, reckoning, or declaring over us that the legal demands of the Law have been met. The demands of the Law are 1) moral righteousness, and 2) punishment for failure to keep the morality of Law. These demands are met through Christ’s life and death. His righteousness has been imputed or credited to our account. The debt is paid. Righteousness is accomplished. God does not impart to us his righteousness apart from Christ. He imputes to us Christ’s righteousness. We are judged based on Christ’s actions and identity. Righteousness does not come and go each time that we sin and confess. No, it is our forever state of being. We are justified, sanctified, and glorified.
How does this happen?
By faith. We believe that God will do what only God can do, and what he promised he would do. For Abraham this was believing that God would keep his promise of making him into a great nation. Faith that God would give him the promised offspring. This was something that only God could do because Sarah was too old to have children. When Abraham believed that God would make his descendants as the stars in the sky, he was credited as righteous (Gen. 15:6). He believed that God would keep his promise of future salvation.
For us imputation also comes by faith. Faith that God has kept his promise of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That he is the propitiation for our sins.
God’s imputation is not the manipulation we warned about above. It is not merely legal or psychological mumbo jumbo. It is the divine word of God declared over us that creates the righteous state in us truly. We are actually righteous, not just declared righteous. God’s word has the power to create, to change the state of something or someone. Only God can truly impute. Only God can, by his word alone, change our nature from dead to alive. Only God can by his word alone unite our life to Christ’s. This imputation allows us to now participate in the righteousness of Christ.
As people we do not have the power of imputation. Although our words can bring some change to others, they cannot truly impute actual legal righteousness before God.
But we do have the word of the imputation of God through Christ that we can speak into other’s lives. This is the gospel. The good news. This is our mission – to declare the unconditional grace of God for all who would believe. That there is a thing called imputed righteousness. That you can have it free of charge by faith in Christ’s work on the cross. That it ends all systems of works salvation and merit. And that it brings “to live is Christ” as your new identity and future.
Why is understanding imputation so important for us as Christians? How does union with Christ bring about the imputation of Christ’s righteous standing to our account?