Imputationist: Recognizing Christ’s Complete Work


“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Members of Christ’s church were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). Ever since then, many other labels have been added on top of that title to describe those believers.

Eminent theologian R.C. Sproul was once asked about the usefulness of one of those labels: evangelical. That’s a word that came about during the Reformation, and it has been used widely in the 20th and now the 21st century as a marker for a specific group of Christians. It has morphed into a mainly political label.

Sproul said he preferred a different word (and one I love as well): Imputationist.

But why prefer this word imputationist over all words? Because it’s absolutely key to understanding the sinfulness of sin and the goodness of Christ’s work on behalf of His people.

To impute something is to charge something to a person’s account…to credit it to them. Romans 5:13 uses the word in this context: “[F]or until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

The Law imputes sin to sinners. It diagnoses sin and pins it on us Law-breakers. It not only pronounces the charge against us…it makes it stick.

Our sin is imputed to us because we are descendants of Adam and thus under his sinful federal headship, but also because we are actively sinning in our own right (Rom. 5:1-21).

We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.

This contradicts the misconceptions of our modern world. Many might tell you that deep down, you’re a good person, and you’ve only made bad choices. Perhaps society targeted and harmed you in numerous ways, compelling you to be less than your best self.

Statements like these are bankrupt therapeutic poppycock that, unfortunately, some in the church have bought into. Sugarcoating the imputation of sin to us results in prideful people who misunderstand what is wrong in the world…us. Churches that export this type of thinking are worse than the celebrity ear-ticklers because they have sold out the truth for acceptance among blind guides who are mere paces from falling into a gravel pit.

We should never shrink from proclaiming the darkness and depravity of the YHWH-hating, neighbor-despising, idol-manufacturing heart of mankind.

But there is a second imputation that many have outwardly rejected with more vehemence than the doctrine of sin: the double imputation of Christ.

For many of us in Christ, we have only been taught about half of Christ’s work for us. Especially at Easter time, we are reminded that Jesus carried our sins on the cross. This is a good, true, and beautiful doctrine to which we should add our heartiest amen. It’s an enormous and inescapable hallmark of the Christian religion: that the second Person of the Trinity took on flesh to live righteously and to carry away the sins of His people. He took our guilt and shame under sin and carried it far away, as stated in Micah 7:19: “He will again have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities. And You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.”

But in many churches (and regrettably among many Baptists), that’s where the doctrine stays. It is as if Jesus only carries away your sins, but you need to be good enough to not pile on more sins…otherwise you face the wrath of God on your own. In this system, you need to maintain the righteousness that Jesus purposed, but you could lose that salvation under your own power.

I am happy to proclaim that such an understanding is incomplete and incorrect. There is a second imputation.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

That verse highlights what is called The Great Exchange…Jesus trading or exchanging His own righteous works with us for our sin and unworthiness. It is a single transaction that Jesus alone officiates. He takes our deserved place on the cross, bearing the heavy punishment for our cosmic treason. And in doing so, He places us in His own glorious position…righteous before the Eternal Father, as if we had never sinned.

To be an imputationist is to embrace double imputation. This means acknowledging that for those who believe, our sins have been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness has been imputed to us. All of this is by grace through faith.

This means that our great Savior does not leave us to maintain our own salvation by our own power. Those saved by grace are also kept by grace in this Great Exchange: His righteousness is traded for our sin. He removes our sins far from us so that His righteousness may be near us all the days of our lives. Jesus causes all our sins to be eternally forgotten and causes us to be remembered by our Father in mercy, covered by His own blood.

For further reading
Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation by J. V. Fesko
Imputation of Adam's Sin by John Murray
Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers
The Everlasting Righteousness: How Shall Man Be Just with God? by Horatius Bonar
Lee Jones

Lee Jones

Lee Jones is a lay elder at Redemption Bible Church in Bellefontaine, OH. He is a podcaster with The B.A.R. Network, hosting Reformed Meditations and cohosting The Literary Baptists. Jones is fanatic for his Savior, sound theology, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and also pencils.

November 20, 2023

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