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.

michael_legna's picture

I am unclear on there being a difference between the RCC and EOC

First I want to start out by clarifying a few points where I think there is less disagreement between the Catholic and Orthodox positions than one might conclude based on your post.

Dustin said -
Salvation is accomplished by grace in response to faith. But that faith cannot be passive; it must express itself, not merely by confessing Jesus as “personal Lord and Savior,” but by feeding, clothing, visiting and otherwise caring for the “least” of Jesus' brethren (Mt 25).


Catholics see salvation as a process as well and believe that faith must be active.

Also among Catholics there is no thought that we must accumulate merits in order to justify ourselves before God.

Dustin said -
Medieval Catholic piety held that this occurs through infused grace, which confers upon us the power to perform righteous deeds and thereby actually to become or be made righteous. This enables us to build up a “treasury of merits,” the term “merit” being understood as a gift of divine grace rather than our own accomplishment (Council of Trent, 1547).


The popular notion you identified "that we are saved only if our merits outweigh our sins on the scales of divine justice" may indeed be attributed to Roman Catholics but it is a not an accurate representation of the Catholic doctrine of salvation.

Catholics do in fact hold that the fullness of God’s grace does enable us to perform good works and is capable of forgiving us fully when we sincerely repent of our sins.

Catholics also accept the Greek patristic traditions interpretation of the Pauline notion of dikaiosyne as “righteousness,” rather than as “justice” in the forensic sense. That is, Catholics see the relationship with God as one with a loving Father than one versus an just judge.

Now to answer your query

Dustin said -
Does that answer your question? Or did I by-pass it somehow?


My question was based on understanding this part of your explanation:

Dustin said -
Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, followers of Christ are capable of receiving that divine righteousness as a gift – one that can actually work a transformation in human life by enabling us to pray, to wage spiritual warfare against the passions, and to love both God and other people. Human nature (ousia) remains “fallen”; but the human person (hypostasis) is led by the Spirit on a pathway of sanctification.

First I would point out that Catholics would probably use the word Grace rather than Righteousness to label that gift of God which works within us.

Second I was wondering how. if it is God's righteousness (or grace) working within us and not our works effecting a change in us, convert and transform us, then what is the significance of praying, waging war against the passions, loving God and men, and following the Spirit in Sanctification. Or maybe it is the word you use above "enable" which is confusing me. Because this to me sounds very much like the Catholic position. I don't see a basis, (once you accept the idea our free cooperation with God's leading, resulting in works, which play a role in our salvation and righteousness) for a distinction between the Catholic and Orthodox positions. It seems more like you use different terms for it, not that there is a real difference.

Perhaps you could point specifically to how they differ, or restate your explanation to emphasize the difference - since I read your post as implying there was one.




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