Righteousness: Imputed, Imparted or Infused?

Loutzenhiser's picture

I. The doctrine of "imputed righteousness" teaches that God graciously charges to the account of believers in Christ the righteousness wrought by Christ. It is at length expounded in Romans 3:21-4:25. Here we are taught that the righteousness wrought by Christ during the days of His incarnation is imputed to, or charged to the account of, believers by God in justification. The justified acknowledge Christ to be not only "Jehovah Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6) – but also their only righteousness (Psalm 71:16). And they pray to be "found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Philippians 3:9).

It may aid one in understanding this doctrine if he will ever bear in mind that in justification righteousness is imputed, not imparted. And justification does not make one righteous, but merely declares him to be so. And the imputation of righteousness does not change one inwardly and subjectively, this being the work of sanctification, not justification.

II. The doctrine of "imparted righteousness" teaches that God bestows righteousness to believers. Some theologians use the term imparted righteousness to identify the righteous nature imparted by God to believers when He regenerates them. They thereby become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). This "divine nature" (not God's essential nature) is the new one placed in men in regeneration, and which is ever in conflict with the old Adamic nature. It is the "seed" of God placed in man which "cannot sin" (1 John 3:9).

III. The doctrine of "infused righteousness" teaches that God justifies in accord with a righteousness merited by Christ instilled into the believer and maintained by good works. This doctrine, especially prominent in the Roman Catholic Church, accords with its doctrine of justification by works. It posits the believer receives both imputed and infused righteousness, the latter becoming his inherent righteousness, and one is justified on the basis of what he personally does with it.

A presentation of the three views of Righteousness and their supporting scriptures.

jroberts's picture


Part of the problem has a lot to do with language. That is, most languages have a passive and an active voice, but neither is exclusively appropriate here. Grace, in the infused model, is totally an issue of God's initiative but it is also something we partake in, and I think that if the debate weren't to keep that in mind it would very quickly degenerate into useless nonsensical bickering against straw-men.

Prior to considering the Scriptural witness, ti may be worthwhile to look at some of the logical errors in the first two models. In the first model, the saved person isn't actually righteous, only called such. How can a just God save someone who isn't just? Why would a good God call bad good? God is the author of the order of creation and of the Law and of the Gospels, why would he call white black, guilty innocent, etc. This model requires a bifurcation of God's mercy and justice. God, in his mercy, acts against his justice, as if God were as fickle as a human being. A traffic cop's mercy acts against his justice, but God is one, as it says more times in Scripture than it would be possible to cite. Not only that, God is perfect, any change could only be to make Him less perfect, so, every time he changes from merciful to just and vice-versa, he changes from either not perfect to perfect, or vice-versa. Imputed righteousness is logically absurd, as it requires that the One God who created everything is as fickle as certain (all?) politicians. Man is created in the image of God, not the other way around.

The second model is also inconsistent. Who is that it is saved? If this righteousness isn't really proper of me but just stuck in, whatever of me that goes to heaven won't be properly called me. Righteousness is a quality a thing has, it has about as much concrete existence as the color red. If something is red, the redness has no existence apart from the red thing (let's say a radio flyer wagon). If you then decided to take this red wagon and throw it away, you couldn't keep the red, could you? The red is only preserved in that which is red, just as righteousness is preserved only in that which is righteous. So, if it isn't the believer who is righteous, whom, exactly, is saved?

The third model doesn't have either of those problems. That which God saves is saved by God in his justice and mercy together, and it really is we who are being saved.

First, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The Father reconciles the son to him, and makes him a son again. The Father does not call someone who's not his son (imputed). The father does not give someone who's not his son his son's shirt and pretend to treat him as a son, but then only leave the inheritance to the son. No, his son shows up, his son is forgiven, and then his son is treated as a son.

Second, St. Mary and the Fiat/ Magnificat / Elizabeth's canticle (Luke 1:26-56). I think this is key to not following into absurd error about this doctrine. God is entirely active here. The Spirit of the Lord will over shadow Mary, He has exalted the humble and lowered the proud, He looks with favor on the loneliness of the servant, etc. Mary is passive in receiving God - the fiat (so let it be with me...) in v. 38. But, on th other hand, she could've said no. She's passive in receiving and cooperative and co-active in the incarnation -- or better, she is co-active precisely by being passive, by letting God work in her and thereby working with God, it is in this that she is rightly called blessed for "blessed is she who believed that there would bee a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord (v 45)" It should never be forgotten that cooperation, participation, co-agency, etc. presume that God is first active and that the Christian's cooperation is passive.