I recently came across a great illustration made by Tim Keller (which I will get to in a moment), in his short book entitled The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, regarding imputation. In finance, imputation refers to the assigning of a value to something by inference, from the value of the products or processes to which it contributes. In other words, it points to the value of an asset, a service, or a company that is not physically recorded in any accounts, but it is implicit in the product. But, in theology, imputation means something much more important. It refers to the ascribing of iniquity or righteousness to someone by virtue of a similar quality in another. Scripture has examples of both…

Examples of imputed iniquity:

Leviticus 17:3-4 (ESV)
“If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.”

Psalm 32:2 (NASB)
“How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!”

Examples of imputed righteousness:

Isaiah 46:13 (NASB)
“I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off;
And My salvation will not delay.
And I will grant salvation in Zion,
And My glory for Israel.”

Paul speaking about himself…

Philippians 3:9 (NASB)
“and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,”

Examples of both:

Romans 5:17-19 (NASB)
“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

Now, I have read these verses many times over and I treasure what Christ has accredited to me. But, the way that Tim Keller describes imputed righteousness gives me pause. I’m frozen in my tracks, pondering the significance of what Christ has done for the Christian. It’s really well put, and “sooo reassuring”:

“In Christianity, the moment we believe God says ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17) Or take Romans 8:1 which says ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”

(I underlined his beautiful observation.)

There are some who promote the notion that righteousness (in Christianity) is poured into the person, or that it is added to them. This is referred to as “infused righteousness.” But, it is not the message of the Gospel. It is not the message of the Gospel because the Gospel is about being transformed, not just being added to. Having something added is not the same as actually becoming the added something. Having an imputed righteousness of Christ is the Gospel (the good news). It’s “good news” because imputation means that we actually become righteous through faith in Christ. The Christian is not merely attached to something else. As Tim Keller observed, “God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” In other words, when God sees the Christian, He sees Christ. Not the Christian, plus Christ.

In being “self-forgetful” as Keller puts it in his book, we can now live freely without the tension of building up or bringing down our self esteem in order to be satisfied. Imputation realized, allows us to rest in Christ all the more restfully. In other words, we (Christians) are now regarded as righteous, BECAUSE righteousness has been imputed to us. Righteousness has not been added to us. We are now actually righteous. We are now in a different category:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Godspeed, to the brethren!


  1. Two immediate thoughts come to mind regarding the topic of this post:

    The first has to do with the authority of the spoken word of God – “let there be light,” and there was light. When God speaks, Isaiah tells us, His word accomplishes that which He sends it forth to do (Isaiah 55:11). If, therefore, God reckons us as righteous, it cannot be merely an imputation, but rather a declaration. By the very fact that he declares us righteous, he makes us righteous. In other words, God does not impute Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, but rather, as Paul tells us later in Romans Ch.8, we become “children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)

    The second thought is a slightly more nuanced, yet nonetheless important one. When God sees the Christian, He does not see Christ, but rather sees and knows the Christian, since Jeremiah tells us that before God forms us in the womb, He knew us (Jeremiah 1:5). In speaking to Jeremiah in regard to the important work the prophet was to do for God, our Father reveals the intimate knowledge He has of us. Later, in the epistles, especially notable in Paul’s letters, we learn that the intimate knowledge God has of us does not cease when we are rebirthed in Christ according to the Spirit, who acts in – and yes, fills – us with righteousness.


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