Reading 2 Sabbath, December 2, 2017

Imputed and Imparted Righteousness

By Pablo Hunger, Austria/U.S.A.


In his religious zeal to find peace and God’s forgiveness, Martin Luther decided to make a pilgrimage to the city of Rome. In his heart was a great desire for an experience bringing him closer to God. He had been taught that the perfect way was in Rome–to climb the holy steps and receive forgiveness of sin. Luther’s heart beat fast as he approached the great city and finally reached the Santa Scala (Holy Stairs). There he began to climb the stairs step after step on his knees and performed his prayers, eager to have the security of God’s pardon. Suddenly, like an arrow, the words of the Holy Scriptures struck his mind, “The just shall live by faith.” He immediately got up from his knees and fled from Rome, beginning a new journey to discover the Biblical truth of justification by faith.

Luther came to understand that forgiveness can be obtained not by making sacrifices or by performing one’s own works, but by a total surrender to God through faith. He understood that the work of salvation is accomplished by God’s power for and in man. He saw that no one can buy forgiveness from God, or with money, as offered by Rome through indulgences, or with his works, as he had tried.

“As the penitent sinner, contrite before God, discerns Christ’s atonement in his behalf, and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned. This is justification by faith.” –The Faith I Live By, p. 116.

Imputed righteousness

Why imputed righteousness? As did Luther, we must understand that our human righteousness has no value to God. That is why the prophet Isaiah wrote: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6.

Therefore, the Lord wants to give us His righteousness; and great is “the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Romans 4:6-8.

“Impute” is a verb that means “to attribute,” “to apply,” “to accredit,” “to place to the account of someone.” In the case of the sinner, it actually refers to Christ’s righteousness that is imputed or accredited to the repentant one who believes in Him and accepts Him as his Redeemer.

“The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, not because of any merit on our part, but as a free gift from God, is a precious thought. The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken.” –The Faith I Live By, p. 111.

I remember a sister who had been in the faith more than ten years who came to me sobbing, “Brother, I am lost!” After speaking a few words of encouragement, I asked her why she had these thoughts. She replied that she did not feel accepted by God, that she had lived a life as good as she could; but there were always new failures, and now she felt too weak to continue fighting. She had led a life full of works of self-righteousness, but this was not sufficient to give her the security of forgiveness. I told her that the work of the Holy Spirit was leading her to see her need of Christ’s power so she would stop trusting in her own works and instead give her strength to God so He could do the work that she could not do. The secret for everyone is constant surrender to God, recognizing that we cannot do this work for ourselves and that we need the divine, transforming power.

“The Lord of life and glory clothed His divinity with humanity to demonstrate to man that God through the gift of Christ would connect us with Him. Without a connection with God no one can possibly be happy. Fallen man is to learn that our Heavenly Father cannot be satisfied until His love embraces the repentant sinner, transformed through the merits of the spotless Lamb of God.

“The work of all the heavenly intelligences is to this end. Under the command of their General they are to work for the reclaiming of those who, by transgression, have separated themselves from their Heavenly Father. A plan has been devised whereby the wondrous grace and love of Christ shall stand revealed to the world. In the infinite price paid by the Son of God to ransom man, the love of God is revealed. This glorious plan of redemption is ample in its provisions to save the whole world. Sinful and fallen man may be made complete in Jesus through the forgiveness of sin, and the imputed righteousness of Christ.” – Messages to Young People, p. 137.

Illustration of forgiveness

A story is told of a man in England who started off in his Rolls-Royce to travel through the European countries to get to know them better. While he was driving, far away from home, his car’s engine quit. He wrote to the Rolls-Royce company in England and explained his problem. A quick decision was made by the company’s officers. They sent a mechanic by plane to the place where the customer was! The mechanic fixed the car so the man was able to continue his journey, and the mechanic flew back to England.

But then the owner of the car began to wonder how much he would have to pay for this repair service. After he returned to England, he wrote a letter and asked what was due for the work the mechanic had done on his car. He received a letter from the company office with the following reply: “Dear Sir, no records appear in our files about anything going wrong with a Rolls-Royce.” What an unexpected answer, and how happy the man was when he read the message!

This is what the Lord does. He came to this world to help man, who was stuck and had no way out. Although there were enormous costs that had to be paid, God took care of everything. To this day, one only needs to request His help.

This implies that if we accept Jesus, our assurance of forgiveness does not lie in our own works but is rooted in the merits of Jesus’ life and perfect sacrifice that God puts in our favor. This is why it is called imputed righteousness, or righteousness that is placed on our record by Christ; and our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Instead of our lives being recorded, the life of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is recorded under our names. God no longer sees our stained lives but sees the perfect life of Christ. We have no unpaid debts with God.

Imparted righteousness

The work of justification by faith does not end with the forgiveness of sin. God does a complete work, imputing or attributing the righteousness of Christ to the sinner, thus changing his life.

“Righteousness within is testified to by righteousness without. He who is righteous within is not hard-hearted and unsympathetic, but day by day he grows into the image of Christ, going on from strength to strength. He who is being sanctified by the truth will be self-controlled, and will follow in the footsteps of Christ until grace is lost in glory. The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.” –(Review and Herald, June 4, 1895) Messages to Young People, p. 35.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:1-4.

This is why Martin Luther stated clearly that justification by faith without a transformed life that is shown in works of righteousness is not justification by faith, and that works of human righteousness without God’s forgiveness are idolatry.

But many Christians still fail to understand the wonderful balance that God brings about, because they remain with the imputed work of Christ alone. They consider forgiveness something that justifies sin in a believer’s life. This does not coincide with the character of God. How can a holy God forgive and then allow sin? Christ declared in His message of mercy and pardon: “Go, and sin no more.” His words included the work of imparted righteousness that God desires to accomplish in every sinner who has been forgiven.

When the sinner has been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit and has fallen at the feet of Jesus, true repentance leads him to turn away from sin and to live a different life, a life of righteousness that God imparts daily to the believer.

“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Romans 6:13, 16-18.

Why is this called imparted righteousness? It is because it is not our righteousness but God’s work–His righteousness operating in the repentant sinner. This is why the apostle Paul calls us to “yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Romans 6:19; Ephesians 2:10. Imparted righteousness is also called sanctification, or the work of God in setting man apart for a holy life, in harmony with His will. Speaking of this balance, James says: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26.

How many times is the question asked, “Have you been born again?” this being considered something that happened in the past life of the believer? But through the work of the Holy Spirit, every day we see things in our lives that we need to repent of and change, things that we need to give up and leave behind; we need to die to sin and to be born again into new habits with Christ. Dying to sin–the work of sanctification–lasts for our entire lives.

“Many commit the error of trying to define minutely the fine points of distinction between justification and sanctification. Into the definitions of these two terms they often bring their own ideas and speculations. Why try to be more minute than is Inspiration on the vital question of righteousness by faith?…

“Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for Christ. Wrongs cannot be righted nor reformations wrought in the character by feeble, intermittent efforts. It is only by long, persevering effort, sore discipline, and stern conflict that we shall overcome.

“It [sanctification] is not merely a theory, an emotion, or a form of words, but a living, active principle, entering into the everyday life. It requires that our habits of eating, drinking, and dressing be such as to secure the preservation of physical, mental, and moral health, that we may present to the Lord our bodies–not an offering corrupted by wrong habits but–‘a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’ ” –The Faith I Live By, p. 116.

This is why the life of the believer is not a mere emotion, or a feeling based on a religious service full of ecstasy, but the understanding of our constant need for God, the guidance of His word, and His counsel to change our decisions that have often been wrong. Just as a young man or woman in love surrenders his or her heart in willingness to serve and make his or her beloved happy, so the believer wants to serve those who have demonstrated their love by giving their lives to save him. If your loved one is away, think of how much you appreciate being able to speak on the phone or receive a letter or an email message from him or her. So it must be in our relationship with God. He who has been touched by the love of Christ will value the time he spends in communication with God through prayer and reading His holy word as a message of encouragement and guidance every day, desiring to learn more about his Beloved and knowing how to serve Him better.

“The Scriptures are the great agency in the transformation of character…. If studied and obeyed, the word of God works in the heart, subduing every unholy attribute.” –The Faith I Live By, p. 116.

Thus, imparted righteousness operates in each person for the transformation of character.

Many Christians think that heaven can be won by performing many charitable deeds and constantly being involved in religious activities, but they forget that it is the Lord who works in a person’s character and produces the fruit that is seen in his actions. “For the love of Christ constraineth us;…” 2 Corinthians 5:14.

“God has made every provision whereby our thoughts may become purified, elevated, refined, and ennobled. He has not only promised to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but He has made an actual provision for the supply of the grace that will lift our thoughts toward Him, and enable us to appreciate His holiness. We may realize that we are Christ’s possession, and that we are to manifest His character to the world. Prepared by heavenly grace, we become clothed with the righteousness of Christ, in the wedding garment, and are fitted to sit down at the marriage supper. We become one with Christ, partakers of the divine nature, purified, refined, elevated, and acknowledged to be the children of God–heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” –(The Youth’s Instructor, October 28, 1897) Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 660.

“We are now in probationary time, and it is important for us to consider the fact that we are deciding our own eternal destiny.” –The Youth’s Instructor, October 28, 1897.

“The faces of men and women who walk and work with God express the peace of heaven. They are surrounded with the atmosphere of heaven. For these souls the kingdom of God has  begun. They have Christ’s joy, the joy of being a blessing to humanity. They have the honor of being accepted for the Master’s use; they are trusted to do His work in His name.” –The Adventist Home, p. 535.

“An earthly parent cannot give his child a sanctified character. He cannot transfer his character to his child. God alone can transform us. Christ breathed on His disciples, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’ John 20:22. This is the great gift of heaven. Christ imparted to them through the Spirit His own sanctification. He imbued them with His power, that they might win souls to the gospel. Henceforth Christ would live through their faculties, and speak through their words…. They must cherish His principles and be controlled by His Spirit. They were no longer to follow their own way, to speak their own words. The words they spoke were to proceed from a sanctified heart, and fall from sanctified lips.

“We need the softening, subduing, refining influence of the Holy Spirit, to mold our characters, and to bring every thought into captivity to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that will enable us to overcome, that will lead us to sit at the feet of Jesus, as did Mary, and learn His meekness and lowliness of heart. We need to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit every hour of the day, lest we be ensnared by the enemy, and our souls be imperiled.” –God’s Amazing Grace, p. 203.

The message of the latter rain

“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.” –Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91.

It has been 129 years since God sent this important message to the Adventist people. The message of imputed and imparted righteousness must be lived and proclaimed by God’s people if they wish to be recipients of the final blessing of the latter rain.

Dear brother, dear sister, if you are still thinking about how to be saved, remember that Jesus paid the price for you; He died in your place. You can be grateful and happy. Do not doubt God’s forgiveness if you have confessed your sins and have made the firm decision to put them away. Do you find it difficult to be kind to your husband, do you choose to be selfish when asked for a favor, do you find it hard to be honest in little things, or are you wasting your precious time on the Internet or on social networks? It is not enough to try to improve a little bit here and there. God wants to deliver us from self and the power of darkness every day. Our own thoughts are perverse, and so our actions are centered in self. God alone is able to take control and give us victory through the guidance of His Holy Spirit in righteousness and peace.

The Lord is waiting for the total surrender of His children. He wants them to give Him their hearts, time, and strength so their lives and characters will be completely transformed. God grant us His grace so this message will be lived and proclaimed throughout the world and the end will come.