THE DOCTRINE OF IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS


A look at God’s Word by
Gary Ray Branscome



    The Gospel consists of a number of doctrines that focus on various aspects of Justification by Faith. By clarifying certain details, those doctrines provide us with a more comprehensive understanding of justification. And the Apostle Paul deals with one of them – the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness – in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.

AN OVERVIEW


    In this section of Scripture, Paul relates certain things that the Bible says about Abraham and David, to Justification by Faith. He begins by calling our attention to the fact that faith was imputed to Abraham for righteousness, points out that righteousness was also imputed to David, and then stresses the fact that imputed righteousness has nothing to do with keeping the law.

RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INPUTED TO ABRAHAM


3  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed) unto him for righteousness.
4  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

[Comment: Verse four is saying that those who seek righteousness by the law will be condemned for all that they have not done (i.e. their debt, what they yet owe). Or, as Paul put it in his letter to the Galatians, “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Galatians 3:10).
Verse five tells us that righteousness is imputed to those who are not working to keep the law, yet trust in Christ. Or as Paul put it in chapter nine, “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith” (Romans 9:30).]

RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INPUTED TO DAVID


6  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7  Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

[Comment: The fact that Paul equates imputing righteousness (verse 6) with forgiving sin (verse 7), tells us that forgiveness is what makes us righteous in the sight of God. And, because of the forgiveness we have in Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus // For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 8:1 and 10:4).]

RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM THE LAW


9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
10  How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
12  And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

[Comment: In these verses Paul stresses the fact that righteousness was imputed to Abraham before he had even taken the first step of keeping the law (that of being circumcised). (Compare Genesis 15:6 and 17:23-24.) He goes on to explain that if righteousness was imputed to Abraham before he was circumcised, then we do not have to be circumcised (keep the law) in order to be counted as righteous. For that reason, all who trust in Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, whether they have been circumcised or not.]

13  For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14  For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
15  Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

[Comment: In these verses, Paul explains that God's promise that Abraham would inherit the world, was never meant to be given to him, or to his descendants, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (verse 13). For if we had to keep the law in order to obtain what is promised, faith would be meaningless (void) and no one would ever receive what God promised (verse 14). In fact, the law can only bring wrath upon those who seek righteousness by it, because only those who are not under it can be free of transgression (verse 15). For that reason, righteousness is imputed to us through faith, that it might be a gift of God’s grace. To the end that we all might be certain that we are included in God’s promise to Abraham, whether Jew (those “of the law”), or gentile (Ephesians 2:8-9).]

RIGHTEOUSNESS TO ALL WHO TRUST IN CHRIST


23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
24  But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

[Comment: The last three verses tell us that what the Bible says about faith being imputed to Abraham for righteousness was not written for his sake alone, but for our sake. For just as righteousness was imputed to Abraham when he believed the promise, it shall be imputed to all who believe that Christ died for their sin, and was raised again for their justification.]

CONCLUSION


    In the verses we have just looked at, Paul stressed the fact that righteousness is imputed apart from the law, in order to help us understand that it is not the law, but the forgiveness we have in Christ, that makes us righteous in the sight of God. In chapter ten he put it this way, “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9-10).