What is imputation?


          “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:21.


          The doctrine of imputation is a theological term explaining how a Christian actually receives forgiveness for sin. It is where we draw our assurances from regarding the universe altering glories of justification. Those who are saved receive a complete pardon. Let’s use money to represent this. Let’s say it was a $100,000,000.00 debt I owed for my violations of God’s commandments. The doctrine of imputation says that Jesus paid $100,000,000.00 to buy me out completely from my debt. I contribute nothing! Jesus’ death is not a partial payment for my sin; it’s a total payment, Hebrews 10:14.


          The doctrine of imputation was essentially the heart of the Protestant Reformation. In the passage cited here at the start, we see that Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin. In John 3:14-15 Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He’s recalling Numbers 21:4-9 where Moses was told to lift up a bronze serpent on a pole so that whoever looked to it would be healed from the serpent’s bite. This is one of the hundreds of types foretelling Jesus’ death on the cross, and we who look to Him now will be healed from the serpent’s bite. The serpent always represents sin in Scripture. Jesus, therefore, on the cross, was made the very embodiment of SIN itself. Like that bronze serpent, He was "lifted up" on a cross, the Roman method of execution. He represented SIN and God thrashed Him on the cross as it. Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of the penalty for the sins of all of His sheep. We needed a perfect righteousness; Jesus alone can give it. “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death,” Proverbs 11:4.

          So here it is: Jesus who knew no sin became sin so that I who knew no righteousness could become righteous. It’s that simple. He takes my sin; I receive His righteousness. Imputation is a great exchange. His righteousness gets imputed to my account. The Christian doesn’t stand before God on their own righteousness, which would profit them nothing! Isaiah 64:6. Christians stand on the righteousness of Jesus.


          It is the understanding of imputation that inspired St. Paul to tell us: “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith,” Philippians 3:4b-9. (See also: Romans 4:5-21; 5:1-2, 17; 8:1; 9:30; 10:4; Acts 13:39; Colossians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24; 2 Peter 1:1).


          Edward Mote wrote these beautiful lyrics over a century ago. This is the glory and joy of imputation. It is the Christian faith:


          My hope is built on nothing less
          than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
          I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
          but wholly lean on Jesus' name.


          On Christ the solid rock I stand,
          all other ground is sinking sand;
          all other ground is sinking sand.


          When Darkness veils his lovely face,
          I rest on his unchanging grace.
          In every high and stormy gale,
          my anchor holds within the veil.

          His oath, his covenant, his blood
          supports me in the whelming flood.
          When all around my soul gives way,
          he then is all my hope and stay.

          When he shall come with trumpet sound,
          O may I then in him be found!
          Dressed in his righteousness alone,
          faultless to stand before the throne!

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