If doctrine divides (and it does) then so do definitions. Definitions demand precise language. Precision carries with it the idea of dogmatism. No one likes that, right? I love it. Even when I disagree with it, I love hearing someone being bold enough to say what they believe. I don't like the content of their message, but I do like their willingness to say it. To be clear, to be black and white and to be bold is a rarity these days. I encourage you to learn from teachers who let you know where they stand.
This brings us to the word imputation. It's a glorious word. It's powerful. It bears the weight of the cross. It, along with propitiation and grace, is among the most important words you'll ever learn in your entire life.
Let's first examine some verses from God's holy, infallible and inerrant word. We'll take a chronological look at how this doctrine has developed so, obviously, we'll begin in the Old Testament:
Aaron, the first high priest, needed forgiveness for his sins before he could present atoning sacrifices for anyone else's. This is why Aaron offered up a sin offering on the altar to YHWH. Remember this: Aaron, as high priest, needed to first provide an atoning sacrifice for his own sins. This doctrine gloriously and beautifully fits together at the end. It's a gorgeous tapestry of divine, soul-saving truth.
There are other types of offerings detailed in Leviticus and each had a particular purpose (e.g. Passover) but the general purpose of each, as detailed in the case above, was to offer up something to take the place of something else. The animal represents sin and bears the due punishment for that sin in place of the sinner.
If you want an illustration of how seriously God took this practice, then go check out 1 Samuel and read what happened to Eli's sons when they abused the altar.
Let's jump ahead to the New Testament because if I don't do it now then this post will be like a 4 hour read and I'm told by my wife that my posts are already long enough.
Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together.Interesting that the high priest offers up Jesus on behalf of the Jews. Also interesting that the crucifixion took place on Passover; the day when God passes over His chosen people and doesn't punish them along with everyone else. The day when God freed His chosen people from bondage and slavery. Very interesting.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—Clear enough yet?
Remember how Aaron and the other high priests had to first offer up sacrifices for their own sins? Christ, because He lived a perfect life, had no sins of His own to atone for. He just went immediately to the altar, the cross, and became the atoning sacrifice for all who would believe. Is this not fascinating? Is this not awesome???
This glorious truth is woven throughout Scripture. And it's so important because no sacrifice we ever made or could make could adequately atone for our sins. The sacrifice needed to be commensurate with the offense. The sacrifice needed to be as good as the offense was evil. The sacrifice needed to be done by someone who didn't need his own sacrifice. Jesus Christ, serving as high priest AND atoning sacrifice, was the only possible answer to this dilemma.
God imputed our sin to Jesus.
God imputed Jesus' righteousness to us.
That's why the imputation is God giving credit where credit is not due. We, wretched and hell-bound sinners, are credited with the righteousness of Christ for no other reason than God's kind will. That's it. That's the imputation. It's a doctrine we cannot, we absolutely cannot compromise on. It's the lifeblood of Christianity. Without it we have no hope and no chance of setting foot in heaven. For how can that which is unholy be with that which is holy, holy, holy? We need the righteousness of Christ and those of us who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit do indeed have the righteousness of Christ.
If you're a believer you have to say "amen!"