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Imputation and Declaration: The Links to God’s Grace in Jesus Christ

The Logo of the LMS-USA and the Pillars of Luther's Reformation: Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone.

The Logo of the LMS-USA and the Pillars of Luther’s Reformation: Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone.

 

[Mark Dankof’s article will appear in the next edition of Table Talk, the national publication of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod, an affiliate of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The article is a condensed version of a presentation on the Lutheran version of the doctrine of Justification by Grace Through Faith in Christ made recently to a seminar of evangelical Protestant high school students in San Antonio.]

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Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed [δὲ οὐκ ἐλλογεῖται μὴ ὄντος] when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign [δωρεᾶς τῆς δικαιοσύνης λαμβάνοντες ἐν] in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 5:12-19 King James Version (KJV)

 

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God [ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν] in him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

– King James Bible “Authorized Version” Cambridge Edition

 

       Before we begin to cover the material in earnest, indulge me in a compulsive practice of mine that always characterized my time as an instructor in San Antonio at the former Texas Bible College.  It has characterized my time as a humble pastor in a small and struggling Lutheran parish in the Alamo City when I conduct classes on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, and in every other pastoral call I’ve ever had.

       That practice is to recommend some of the best books available in assisting believing pastor and lay person alike in the regular and deeper study of God’s Word.  Every one of these books I will briefly mention today has been penned by individuals more gifted than I in this endeavor.  I am thankful I can access their work.  I am thankful I can commend the repository of Biblical knowledge and insight of these men and women to you.

       Consider the following as lifelong resources to add to your individual libraries over the course of time.  The first resource is the newly released update of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE, ISBN 9780310276197) a 5 volume set of 3,552 pages compiled under the supervision and superintendence of Dr. Moises Silva, the Revision Editor who has blessed Westmont College, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary over time with his brand of painstaking scholarship in complete submission to the authority of God’s Word and the Gospel of Christ. Download a free primer on the NIDNTTE at http://www.bit.ly/nidntte.

       Several one volume introductions to the Old and New Testament will always serve you in good stead.  Try An Old Testament Introduction (ISBN 9780310263418) by Tremper Longman III of Westmont College, and the late Raymond Dillard of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  Add An Introduction to the New Testament (ISBN 9780310238591) by D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, both of whom were professors of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

       Since the Charismatic Renewal movement is something one will encounter in so many places today, I will commend to everyone here the book entitled, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views (ISBN 9780310201557). The contributors include my old friend and instructor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Gaffin; Robert L. Saucy; C. Samuel Storms; and Douglas A. Oss.  Another of my New Testament instructors from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is the editor of this critical book, Dr. Wayne Grudem.

       Finally, I have slavishly used charts as a student and as a pastor trying to plumb the depths of God’s Word.  The Zondervan Publishing Company’s series of charts on every conceivable subject is worth your acquisition for the subjects you are drawn to study and examine as the Holy Spirit leads.

     Every seminar presentation I make is based on a circle.  My reference recommendations are the beginning of the circle which will conclude with where we have now begun.

     Let’s begin in earnest.  I have been asked to give this largely Protestant evangelical, non-Lutheran gathering of fine young people, a presentation of the essential aspects of orthodox Lutheran theological and Biblical insight on the person and work of Jesus Christ and the implications of this Biblically revealed Christology for the plan God has established from all eternity for the salvation of the Israel of God.  By this latter term, I mean all those through the ages who have “confessed with their lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

     Put another way, the person and work of Jesus Christ and its centrality in God’s provision for salvation, is a fact in history if one accepts the Biblical witness.  But what are the implications for each of you?  Do each of you possess eternal life and salvation in the coming Kingdom of God, or not?  If not, the objective truth of the Biblical witness that “. . . the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . ” (John 1:14) is for you, an irrelevancy.

     Last summer, I made a presentation to the national gathering of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA entitled, “The Hands of Time and the Appearance of Logos.”  In turn, that address was based on a 1996 talk and subsequent article entitled, “Creeds and Confessions as Liturgy.”  The 1996 presentation underscored how the early Confessing Church had to wrestle with all of the ancient Christological heresies whose presuppositions and methodology provide the foundation for every modern Christological heresy which threatens the Confessing Church of the present age.  I stated then that:

      “Among many heretical movements of significance to the early church were Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism, Monarchianism, and Arianism.  Out of orthodoxy’s clash with these came an increasingly systematized Christian theological rebuttal and the formulation of affirmative creedal statements. These statements may be seen not only as the voice of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church staking out its position in challenges past — but as the bequeathed legacy to today’s church, which must turn, paradoxically, to the past, to understand the ideological lineage and connections of ancient enemies to modern antagonists, as well to recover its own historical memory as the key to the reestablishment of a previously possessed Biblical identity, obscured by compromise with doctrinal relativism and repristinated apostasy.

       In summarizing these papers of the past two decades quickly, let me simply say that the Biblical witness is clear in the rebuttal of all apostates and heretics in history:  Jesus Christ is True God and True Man.  His active and perfect obedience to God’s law; His passive obedience to God the Father in willingly suffering death on the Cross at Calvary as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish; and the reality in time and space of his Resurrection from the dead are the sole basis for the salvation and eternal life of all who believe (John 14:6).  For those who believe, the Apostle Paul underscores the truism that “. . . no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3).

     Fair enough. But given the comprehensive sinfulness and rebellion of all of humanity described by Paul in Romans 3: 9-20, how is it that the Holy Spirit and saving faith are bestowed upon some and not others? How are some declared righteous by God and not others, since all have an equally and fatally corrosive inability to observe the law perfectly as a prerequisite for earning God’s declaration of righteousness (Romans 3: 20)?

       Put another way, the key question is this:  How is the righteousness of God in Christ, and the benefit of status as one of God’s redeemed through Christ alone for all eternity, transferred or conveyed to each and every comprehensively sinful person in Adam (Romans 5:12f) who is subsequently able to “confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead“? (Romans 10:9).

       Enter the ingredients necessary for the appropriate reception of believing faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit of God, and the accompanying priceless gift of eternal salvation in Christ, and Christ alone:  These are the Imputation of God to the believer of an alien righteousness inherently extrinsic to all of humanity impacted by the sin of Adam.  This alien righteousness has its center in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ alone. The forensic Declaration of God that the Israel of God is righteous in Christ follows. The believer’s salvific status before God is the result of this process of Imputation and Declaration.  He or she can contribute not one whit to what has been accomplished by the Son of God on behalf of each and every Saint.  In a nutshell, the Protestant Reformational truth that we are justified by God’s grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone, is absolutely and irrevocably linked to what the New Testament tells us about Imputation and Declaration.  The Lutheran tradition and the Reformed are in complete accord on this mysterious truth.

     As a pastor and theologian with but limited gifts, I never attempt to reinvent the wheel built by our best scholars and exegetes in time.  However, God has given me a special gift in enabling me to find, evaluate, and catalog for your use and mine some of the best Biblical scholarship available either now or in the past.  When it comes to Imputation and Declaration, I will summarize what I believe is one of the best recent presentations on the subject of the Evangelical–and truly both Lutheran and Reformed–position on this critical subject.

     I commend to you The Gospel Coalition’s relatively recent book entitled “The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices” edited by D. A. Carson and Timothy Keller (Crossway, 2012).  For purposes of this seminar conversation today, I ask you to zero in on chapter 9, written by Wheaton College President and Reformed Scholar, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken. Chapter 9 is simply entitled, “Justification.”

     My summation of that chapter will hopefully provide your own roadmap to future Biblical study of the link between Imputation and Declaration, and the Doctrine of Justification understood in the context of God’s mysterious and merciful provision for salvation in Jesus Christ.  My summation largely coincides with that of evangelical Armenian scholar Roger E. Olson, except my evaluation of Ryken is more favorable. Olson is certainly a believer in Christ.  But note that his tradition parts with Luther and Calvin on the subject of free will, and with Augustine, Luther, and Calvin on the issue of the semi-Pelagianism of Jacob Armenius.  I cannot deal with this at great length now.  But please do not miss out on the critical differences inherent in these respective interpretations. Here then is the summary of chapter 9:

     1)  Ryken calls Justification the Chief Article.” He says “This doctrine holds a place near the center of the gospel.” (153)

     2)  Ryken bases most of his exposition of justification on passages from Romans, especially chapters 3 and 5. According to him, these Pauline passages and other passages of the New Testament, taken together, propound the truth that in salvation God “does not simply clear a sinner of all charges; he declares a sinner to be positively righteous. Justification is God’s legal declaration that, on the basis of the perfect life and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, received by faith, a sinner is as righteous as his own beloved Son.” (155-156)

     3)  This chapter is, for the most part, a straightforward account of the classical Lutheran-Reformed doctrine of justification as forensic imputation of righteousness. The emphasis is on legal metaphors, on declaration and imputation and not on personal relationship, reconciliation or transformation (of the person being saved). Salvation is primarily a change of legal status in relation to God’s judgment.  While the emphasis is on legal metaphors and change of legal status, this fact does provide the foundation for subsequent sanctification and walking in personal relationship with the Biblical God who is a personal being in constant engagement with His chosen.

     4)  Ryken believes the very doctrine of God is at stake in his doctrine of justification. Anyone who thinks God can simply forgive a repentant sinner without imputing Christ’s righteousness to him or her (something else he makes clear in the chapter) is impugning the character of God.

     5)  The most fascinating portion of the chapter is the logical symmetry Ryken presents in “The Righteousness of Justification: A Triple Imputation.” Ryken argues that Adam’s sin (meaning guilt) is imputed to everyone; our sin is imputed to Christ (on the cross) and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us in salvation. The key verses he cites for this triple imputation are Romans 5:12-19 (imputation of Adam’s sin to us) and 2 Corinthians 5:21 (our sins imputed to Christ and his righteousness imputed to us).

     As I promised at the beginning of this conversation, we have come full circle at the very end.  Why do I say this?  Let me first ask two questions only you can answer for yourself: Are these Biblical truths appropriated by you and for you in faith? Second, is what has been the understanding of God’s mysterious provision for your salvation and mine articulated by the Lutheran and Reformed traditions historically, and in my presentation of the position of Dr. Ryken today, the correct understanding of the Word of God?

     This is where your journey only begins, as the Holy Spirit of God moves and directs you.  Get the newly released update of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE, ISBN 9780310276197), Moises Silva (ed.) as I directed at the beginning of the circle.

   And obtain Strong’s Greek and Hebrew concordances.  See the words below in Strong’s concordances.  Use Strong’s in conjunction with NIDNTTE.  And begin a journey with our Biblical texts cited when we started today, and a lifelong journey with the entirety of God’s prophetic and apostolic Word.  You will be glad you did.

     Thank you, and may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

λογίζομαι (logizomai)  Strong’s Number 3049

δίκαιος, ία, ιον (dikaios)  Strong’s Number 1342

δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosune)  Strong’s Number 1343

δίκη, ης, ἡ  (diké)  Strong’s Number 1349

ἐλλογέω (Ellogeo)   Strong’s Number 1677

חָשַׁב  (chashab)  Strong’s Hebrew Number 2803

imputare (Latin)

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