Ligonier National Conference - R.C. Sproul - (II)
Dr. R.C. Sproul’s second and final conference message was entitled “Counted Righteous in Christ (Imputation).” He began by reading Genesis 15:1-6, where we learn that Abraham believed God, and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” Dr. Sproul then read from Romans 4:1-8, where we see Paul hearkening back to Abraham as “Exhibit A” of how righteousness is obtained before God.
IMPUTATION AND JUSTIFICATION
As the previous texts showed, imputation is closely related to justification (our being declared righteous before God). Dr. Sproul noted that the word “imputation” can be defined in various ways. It can mean to ascribe or to attribute something to someone. It can also mean to reckon or even to transfer something to someone. When the Bible speaks of God’s work of justification, it uses imputation in a legal or forensic manner. Forensic evidence is that which would be presented in a law court to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
ROMAN CATHOLICS ALSO BELIEVE IN FORENSIC JUSTIFICATION
Several years ago, an effort known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together sought to bring Protestants and Roman Catholics together on this issue of justification. They argued that both Protestants and Roman Catholics had “a unity of faith in the gospel.”
But what many may not recognize is that the Roman Catholic church has always taught forensic justification. The dividing question has been: On what grounds will God declare anyone just in His sight? For Protestants, the only ground whereby God will grant righteousness to anyone is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. God in His mercy attributes the righteousness of Christ to our account. We are simultaneously righteous and sinners (simul iustus et peccator). For Roman Catholics, this constitutes a legal fiction. How can God declare someone to be righteous until or unless they actually are righteous?
IMPUTATION: REAL OR “LEGAL FICTION”?
But imputation is not a legal fiction. If it were, Jesus could not die for my sin. If it were, Adam could not sin as a representative of the human race. Without imputation, neither original sin nor justification is sensible. It is important to understand that when God imputes the sin of Adam to me, this reckoning is real. When God imputes my sin to Jesus the sin-bearer, that too is real. And when He transfers Christ’s righteousness to me, that too is real. This is the basis whereby we can stand before a Holy God.
The key to grasping this is to recognize that the only way to be saved is by works. Only a perfect life saves. Justification by faith alone ultimately means justification by Christ alone. This is why Christ could not just arrive on the scene and immediately go to Golgotha. He had to enter humanity as a baby and to live under the law. Not only did he have to die for our sin, he had to life a perfect life of active obedience on our behalf.
CLOTHED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST
The metaphor of clothing is helpful in understanding the doctrine of imputation. When Adam and Eve sinned, a realization of nakedness and shame following. Graciously, God provided clothing—a covering of their shame. Wearing clothes allows us to not pervade our shame openly before the whole world. Likewise, we stand before God, “dressed in His righteousness.” His perfect life and death on our behalf is our righteousness before God. Therefore, imputation is not a legal fiction.
JESUS CHRIST - THE PRIEST WITH DIRTY CLOTHES
Another metaphor we have is in the Old Testament sacrificial system. We see the shedding of blood and the blood being poured all over the mercy seat. But then we also read of another goat which is not killed. Rather, the priest transfers (imputes) the sin of the people onto this goat and sends it far away into the wilderness. The book of Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never ultimately address the sin problem. Rather, these were only shadows and types which pointed to Christ.
Christ is the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God. But Christ is also the scapegoat who carries away our sins. And Christ also fulfilled the law of God on our behalf and is our righteousness.
In closing, Dr. Sproul reminded us of his book The Priest With Dirty Clothes. This children’s story illustrates the double-transfer: our record of wrongdoing is transferred to Christ, and Christ’s record of perfect obedience is transferred to us. This is the doctrine of imputation whereby we are counted righteous in Christ.