Imputation: The HOW of Justification

“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 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 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. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”Romans 5:12-21

Preaching-Christ-CrucifiedFrom the scripture portion above we have before us a passage that serves as a entryway; for in this entryway there are two discoveries: (1) THE BASIS for Justification; and (2) THE BEGINNING of Sanctification. And as we move from an understanding of our salvation by justification, we will not truly grasp sanctification in the chapters that follow unless the Holy Spirit has blessed us with the revelation of IMPUTATION.

Now, even without an apprehension and understanding of these truths, they will most certainly be at work in the believer truly saved by God’s grace; nevertheless, as our minds are being renewed by the washing of the water of God’s Word, our understanding grows with the significant revelation of the knowledge of these truths through God’s Word.

Many of us have heard these words so often that sometimes it makes our heads spin: justification, sanctification, imputation. Yet, it is my earnest hope and prayer that we may understand it in terms from the text in order that our hearts will truly grasp the riches of what God has done in the believer through Christ Jesus.

Let’s define a few of our terms:

Number 11. JUSTIFICATION is a legal act of God, whereby God declares a sinner, not only forgiven of wrong-doing, but also accepted in right-standing. It is a once-and-for-all declaration by God in the court of heaven for the sinner saved by God’s grace through faith; and though justification is a one-time declaration, the manifestation of that justification is evidenced through a continual, experiential sanctification that takes place in a sinner’s life once he or she is saved.

Number 22. SANCTIFICATION means to be made holy. It is initially and immediately imputed to the soul by the declaration of God’s justification. Yet, there is also a very real holiness that takes place through the miracle of regeneration; that a soul dead in trespasses and sins has been made alive through faith in the Person and work of Jesus. That person is born-again. It is written, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthains 5:17). That person is holy by virtue of being miraculously changed into a new creation in Christ.

There is also an ongoing work of sanctification that grows as a person matures in Christ. It is written, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Number 33. IMPUTATION is HOW God justifies the helpless, hopeless, godless, sinner. This doctrine is the theme of our text, and I believe, the very key to understanding justification. It is a Biblical truth that, when it becomes clear in our thinking and understood in its clear role in justification, it will help us in our growth in grace and strengthen us in our walk of faith. Although we are not to remove justification and imputation from the continuing work of sanctification in our lives since these are eternal, infinite and heavenly truths, it helps us in our understanding to recognize imputation’s distinctive role in justification unto salvation. Okay, so what is IMPUTATION?

Imputation means, “to credit to the account of another,” or “to consider to the charge of another.” I want to illustrate it in a way so as to make it a little easier to understand—

Now, let’s say that I’m the principal of your school (even if you home school your child, that’s okay; just follow me for a moment). I have decreed that in order for your child to go to college (even if it’s many years away), he must take and pass a 613-question essay test on doctorate-level astrophysics. He must score a perfect 100%. I give your child two weeks to study but no matter how hard he studies he still does not get it. Every practice test he takes receives a failing grade because, though he gets some questions partially right, every answer must be 100% completely correct. When the day of the test arrives, instead of handing your child the test, I give it to Dr. Albert Einstein, who not only is a genius and pioneer in physics, but he also wrote the test. Dr. Einstein takes the test and then hands it to me. I take out a huge red marker and I write 100% on the paper. I take another red pen and write 100% in the grade book next to your child’s name. Then I turn at your child and say, “Congratulations, you scored a perfect 100%. You’re going to college… tuition free.”

Did your child actually score 100%? No. Your child didn’t even take the test because you know he’d fail. That’s kind of how imputation works. IMPUTATION is the “how” of justification.

LEAVE YOUR COMMENT. Let us know your thoughts.

Listen to the sermon preached on this text, Romans 5:12-21,The Reign of Grace: the Blessed Truth about Imputation,” on November 1, 2009 at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church.

Read the previous article in this series,The Justified Flourish by the Atonement” (Romans 5:1-11).


About Jon J. Cardwell

"The Spirited Speaker" - Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Nationally recognized speaker and publisher. Author of several books, including the bestseller, Christ and Him Crucified.


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