The Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ

By Steve CampGlory in the cross, our faithful High Priest
Went beyond the veil as our Prince of Peace
Clothed with our sin, its guilt and shame
Our sinless Substitute, Jesus His name

Glory in the cross the Law now fulfilled
Righteousness displayed on Calvary’s Hill
Imputed to all who’d ever would believe
The Lord, the spotless Lamb, hung cursed upon a tree

Glory in the cross where grace doth abound
Where the Man of Sorrows wore transgressions crown
Wounded and chastened for our iniquities
Our faithful Redeemer, God the Father pleased

Together for the gospel; redeemed by the risen Lamb
By grace alone, through faith alone, on Christ alone we stand
Clothed with His righteousness; peace with God forevermore
By His word and for His glory, we proclaim the gospel story
That salvation is through only, Jesus Christ our Lord

Glory in the cross marked by sin’s crimson stain
Forgiveness flows from His precious veins
Perfect redemption, once for all sacrifice
Salvation made secure by the Lord Jesus Christ

Glory in the cross Satan’s power of death destroyed
Rendered impotent by The Incarnate Word
He crushed the Serpents head upon Golgotha’s tree
Our great and dreadful Sovereign, Champion is He

Together for the gospel; redeemed by the risen Lamb
By grace alone, through faith alone, on Christ alone we stand
Clothed with His righteousness; peace with God forevermore
By His word and for His glory, we proclaim the gospel story
That salvation is through only, Jesus Christ our Lord

Glory in the cross the elect have been redeemed
O covenant of grace from eternity decreed
Worthy is the Lamb slain from all ages past
Sinners reconciled, true worshippers at last

Glory in the cross “It is finished”, the Victor, cried
God propitiated, forever satisfied
Once enemies now brethren, estranged but brought near
His judgment-assuaged no bondage nor fear

Glory in the cross God forsaken of God
Smitten and afflicted, bruised with Heaven’s rod
Resurrected triumphant, our Lord, God and King
Grave where is thy vict’ry, O death where is thy sting?

Together for the gospel; redeemed by the risen Lamb
By grace alone, through faith alone, on Christ alone we stand
Clothed with His righteousness; peace with God forevermore
By His word and for His glory, we proclaim the gospel story
That salvation is through only, Jesus Christ our Lord

Remember Faithful Leadership
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” -Hebrews 13:7

“We obtain “precious faith through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” or, as it might be rendered, “through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). “This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). He is so called on account of the righteousness which He wrought out by His obedience unto death; for this righteousness is expressly connected with His Mediatorial work. “The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law and make it honourable” (Isa. 42:21). By His vicarious sufferings and obedience, He fulfilled the Law both in its precept and its penalty; and is now said to be “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:3, 4); while His righteousness is identified with “the righteousness of God,” to which the unbelieving Jews refused to “submit themselves,” and contrasted with “their own righteousness” which they “went about to establish,” “as it were by the works of the law.”

In like manner, this righteousness is called “the righteousness of One,” and “the obedience of One” (Rom. 5:18, 19); expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified. It is called “the free gift unto justification of life,” and “the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17, 18), to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience. It is called “the righteousness which is of faith,” or “the righteousness which is by faith,” both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but “sought for as it were by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:32). It is called “the righteousness of God without the law” (Rom. 3:21), to intimate that, while it was “witnessed by the law and the prophets,” and while, as “a righteousness,” it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience. And it is called the righteousness “which God imputes without works” (Rom. 4:6, 11); to show that it is “reckoned of grace,” and not “of debt” (Rom. 4:4, 5) – that “God justifies the ungodly” by placing this righteousness to their account, – and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, “who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.”

“I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me…. I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save;” “Hearken, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness, I bring near MY righteousness” (Isa. 63:1, 3; 46:13). It is still His, and, moreover, it is only to be found “in Him.” “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness,” and “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory” (Isa. 45:24, 25). “We are made the righteousness of God,” but only “in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21); and if we would have “the righteousness which is of God by faith,” we “must win Christ, and be found in Him” (Phil. 3:9); for this righteousness is part of that “fulness which dwells in Him” (Col. 1:19), and which is “treasured up for us in Him.” The whole merit is His, – the gracious imputation of it only is ours.” -James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification

“The doctrinal norm for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the Abstract of Principles Here is what it says about justification: Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith.

James Petigru Boyce was one of the founding professors of Southern Seminary. His Abstract of Systematic Theology (1887) is still a very useful resource. He discusses justification in chapter 35. There, on page 399, we read, “Our justification is due also to the active obedience of Christ, and not to passive obedience only.

1. Righteousness involves character, conduct and action, even more than suffering endured as penalty. The sinlessness of Christ is therefore plainly taught, and especially in connection with imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21.
2. The gracious salvation he brings is said to establish the law.
3. He assures us, that he came to fulfill the law. Matt. 5:17.
4. The obedience of Christ is not only contrasted with the disobedience of Adam, but is declared to be the means by which many shall be made righteous. Rom. 5:19.”

It thus appears, that the ground of justification is the whole meritorious work of Christ. Not his sufferings and death only, but his obedience to, and conformity with the divine law are involved in the justification, which is attained by the believer. The question is here sometimes asked, how the active obedience of Christ can avail to us, when he was himself a man and under the law, and owed obedience personally on his own behalf. The answer to this is twofold, in each case depending upon the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God. On the one hand, the position was one voluntarily assumed by the Son of God. He was under no obligation to become man. He was not, and could not be made man without his own consent. In thus voluntarily coming under the law, his obedience would have merit to secure all the blessings connected to the covenant, under which he assumed such relation. But besides this, the fulfillment of the law would not simply be that fulfillment due by a mere man, which is all the law could demand of him on his own behalf, so that the merit secured is that due to the Son of God, thus as man rendering obedience to the law. That merit is immeasurable and is available for all for whom he was the substitute.” -Dr. James White

“Those whom, God effectually calls he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God” – WCF Ch 11

“Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner” -L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 513.

“The phrase in ipso (in him) I have preferred to retain, rather than render it per ipsum (by him,) because it has in my opinion more expressiveness and force. For we are enriched in Christ, inasmuch as we are members of his body, and are engrafted into him: nay more, being made one with him, he makes us share with him in every thing that he has received from the Father.” -John Calvin Commentary on 1 Cor 1:5

“This calling is an act of the grace of God in Christ by which he calls men dead in sin and lost in Adam through the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, to union with Christ and to salvation obtained in him.” -Francis Turretin

“Objectively, this righteousness is provided “in Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:25–26 describe Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice on the cross as a payment for sin, Through this death God demonstrates His righteousness not only as the just God, but as the God who justly justifies sinners. Prior to Christ’s death a question could be raised about this. How could God justify Moses and not Pharaoh? Both were sinners. Both lacked the righteousness that God requires. Verse 35 explains that the sins of Moses (and all Old Testament believers) were “passed over” by God, awaiting their full payment in the death of Christ. Now that Christ has died, that question has been answered forever and, by the cross, God has demonstrated that He is both personally righteous and that He righteously justifies those who have sinned.

The law requires death for lawbreakers. This is its curse under which all sinners naturally find themselves. By enduring God’s wrath against our sin Christ has redeemed sinners from “the curse of the law” having become a “curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). This secures the just forgiveness of our sins because our sins have been justly punished.

But the law reveals that not only does God require the punishment of sin, He also requires perfect righteousness. This was His requirement of man before the fall and it has not changed since the fall. Therefore, the justification that is found in Jesus Christ is accomplished not only by His sacrificial death but also by His representative life. This is Paul’s argument (as we have already seen) in chapter 5 of Romans. The “one Man’s righteous act” (5:18) and “one Man’s obedience” (5:19) are references not merely to the death of Jesus but to the whole of His work, including His obedient life. Just as the act of breaking the law brought judgment on all who are in Adam, so the act of keeping the law brings justification to all who are in Christ. And this justification comes through His perfect righteousness being imputed to us.” -Dr. Tom Ascol

The above quotes span the past 500 years of redemptive history.

God’s Divine Plumbline
The law of God is His holy, righteous standard for sinful man. (Ex. 20)

The first Adam disobeyed the command of God (Gen. 3) and sin entered this world through the sin of that one man (Rom. 5:12-14). Therefore, all of Adam’s posterity has been thoroughly effected by his one act of disobedience, so that now all are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:1); subject to sin’s wages and penalty—death (Rom. 3:23); living as dead in trespasses and sins; walking according to this worldly age; according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain; the spirit now working in the disobedient; living in fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of the flesh and thoughts, and by nature, children of wrath; not seeking to please God, doing good, without reverence or fear of God… (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-3).

In forbearance and love of God, the Word (God the Son) became flesh and dwelt among us; Jesus came into this world as Immanuel, God with us (John 1:1,14, 18; Matt. 1:21-24); to save His people from their sins; and not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). How? By His submission to it, being born under the Law (Gal. 4:4); in fulfilling its demands by perfect obedience to it (Matt. 5:17; Gal. 3:10); and by ultimately dying on the cross to satisfy its penalty and judgment (Gal. 3:13). The demands of the law of God are thus fulfilled and exacted in His sinless life and in His once for all sacrifice on the cross.

The Perfection that God Demands
This was vital in our salvation for all of man’s righteousness are worthless rags: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).

The Apostle Paul says, “For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13). But no man can perfectly obey the law of God. “For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law |comes| the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

Galatians 3:10: “For all who |rely on| the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law.”

James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of |breaking it| all.”

Man is incapable of living in perfect conformity to the law of God in word, deed, and desire. Proverbs 24:9 says that even, “the thought of foolishness is sin.” Sin is to transgress against the law of God. As the Apostle John says, “Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law.” (1 John 3:4).

But Christ, as our merciful and faithful High Priest, lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God. “He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him.” (1 John 3:5).

“For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, |appoints| a Son, who has been perfected forever” (Heb. 7:26-28).

He lived the life we could not live. “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb. 4:14-16).

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?” ¶ Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.” (Matt. 3:13-15).

Christ Fulfilled All Righteousness
What was this fulfillment of “all righteousness” the Lord spoke of here at His baptism? Christ was identifying with sinners He will ultimately bear their sins in this ‘baptism of repentance.’ His perfect righteousness will be imputed to them (2 Cor. 5:21). John MacArthur says, “This act of baptism was a necessary part of that righteousness He secured for sinners. This first public event of His ministry is rich in meaning: 1. It pictured His death and resurrection (cf, Luke 12:50); 2. It, therefore, prefigured the significance of Christian baptism (v.6); 3. It marked His first public identification with those whose sin He would bear (Is. 53:11; 1 Pt. 3:18); and, 4. It was a public affirmation of His messiahship by testimony directly from heaven (v. 16-17).” (MacArthur Study Bible, Thomas Nelson -1997, p.1397).

In obedience through our Lord’s sinless life in incarnation, He fully satisfied the demands of God’s law so that man, by faith, in imputation could be clothed with His righteousness. The law required perfect obedience and sinlessness from those born under it. Christ accomplished both these things in incarnation.

But the law of God not only required perfect obedience to it, but the penalty of disobedience against it had to be paid. God demanded a perfect once for all sacrifice for His holiness, justice and wrath to be completely satisfied—something the old covenant could never provide.

Behold the Lamb of God
John the Baptist proclaims this of our Lord Jesus when saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:36). In His complete sacrifice on the cross, he satisfied the justice, holiness and wrath of God fully—He drank the cup no one but He could drink (the cup of wrath); and the God the Father was propitiated by His only begotten Son (John 1:18; Heb. 2:17).

He lived a holy life in the flesh that fulfilled the Law and all righteousness (Heb. 7:26); He completely expiated the demands of the penalty of the Law through death (Gal. 3:14; 4:4); and was our merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God as a propitiation for the sins of the people on the cross (Heb. 2:17).

“Now the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the holy of holies once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? ¶ Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions |committed| under the first covenant.” (Heb. 9:11-15).

As the Last Adam, Christ provided in His sinless life perfect obedience to and fulfilled the Law as Son of Man; He provided the perfect once for all sacrifice as the holy spotless Lamb of God; and He was the faithful High Priest who entered the holy of holies behind the veil (Heb. 6:19-20) when “He Himself had purged our sins” (Heb. 1:3). Sinless man; unblemished Lamb; faithful High Priest—all three were needed to satisfy God; and all three were in Christ Jesus our Lord as our divine substitute!

Justification Secured in Resurrection
And lastly, by virtue of His resurrection He has secured our justification forever. “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25).

In summary:
Christ fulfilled the law of God in perfect obedience in His earthly life; He perfectly fulfilled its penalty in His death on the cross; He fully satisfied God’s holiness, justice and wrath in His once for all propitiatory sacrifice on the cross and in resurrections secured for us our justification. Therefore, sinful man may have peace with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord by being justified by His blood (Roms. 5:9); and that His righteousness, by virtue of His sinless life lived and atoning death is now imputed to us by faith (2 Cor. 5:21) so that we are no longer under the curse of the Law; the demands of the Law; or under the justice and wrath of God. But we are clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ, being regenerated and sealed by His Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 1:13-14).

The Testimony of Scripture
Rom. 5:17, “Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Rom. 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

Rom. 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

1Cor. 1:30, “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

2Cor. 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Gal. 2:21, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Phil. 1:11, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Phil. 3:9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“

Titus 3:5-7, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Incarnation; substitution; propitiation; imputation; justification; regeneration; sanctification, resurrection – What a great salvation we have in the Lord Jesus Christ!