Imputed and Imparted Righteousness,
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted Dec., 2011
In the previous issue I asserted that Wesleyan-Arminian theology affirms imputed righteousness, but denies the Calvinistic doctrine of imputation. In this issue I assert that
3. Wesleyan-Arminianism holds to sola fides, but warns against Solifidianism
Early Methodist theology did not equivocate on justification by faith alone. At Romans 3:28 Luther had added the word sola to his conclusion that we are justified solely by faith and not by works. Calvin argued that the concept of faith alone is implied in Romans 3:21, 24, 28.
To say that we are saved by faith alone is to say we are saved by Christ alone. This is what Wesley said about his experience at Aldersgate, that he "did trust in Christ, in Christ alone, for salvation." Kenneth Collins declared that John Wesley became one of the greatest champions of sola fide on English soil.
But John Fletcher warned that the term solifidianism means more. Fletcher labeled solafidianism as "a softer word for Antinomianism." According to Fletcher, solafidians assert
that true faith is inamissible [cannot be lost], that it can lie in a heart totally depraved, that a man's faith can be good when his actions are bad, detestable, diabolical; in a word, that true Christians may go any length in sin, may plunge into adultery, murder, or incest, and even proceed to the open worship of devils, like Solomon, without losing their title to a throne of glory, and their justifying, sanctifying, saving faith.
Thus, the doctrine of imputed righteousness must be kept in balance with imparted righteousness. Faith is initially imputed for righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ is not imputed in lieu of any subsequent obedience.
Twice in Romans Paul uses the phrase "obedience of faith" (1:5; 16:26). In Romans 10:16 Paul equates obedience with faith. Douglas Moo wrote, "Obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience." Daniel Steele taught that the obedience of faith for the sinner is repentance and for the believer it is to keep the commandments of Christ.
Yet in his rebuttal to this paper Michael Horton said, "I understand Paul's phrase 'the obedience of faith' to refer to the act of faith in Christ, not the fruit of that faith (viz., good works). In other words, ‘the obedience of faith' is distinguished from 'the obedience of works,' so it cannot be understood as a way of smuggling the fruit of faith into the definition of justifying faith itself."
4. Wesleyan-Arminianism insists that imputed righteousness must be balanced with imparted righteousness.
Although Wesleyan theology affirms salvation by faith alone, Wesley avoided the danger of lawlessness by declaring, "I believe God implants righteousness in every one to whom he has imputed it." What God declares to be righteous, he proceeds to make righteous. Thus, Wesley maintained a connection between justification, regeneration, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and initial sanctification. We may dissect these terms theologically, but in Christian experience they are concurrent. If regeneration comes first in the Calvinistic order of salvation, then why does imparted righteousness not come before imputed righteousness?
I am aware that Calvin taught, "Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie." In response to my paper Horton also declared,
The quote from Wesley, "I believe God implants righteousness in every one to whom he has imputed it," could have come from any of the reformers and Puritans. No credible Lutheran theologian, much less Reformed, has ever allowed that justification could be separated from sanctification.
But this implanted righteousness must be reconciled with Calvin's teaching that "As long as the faithful dwell in the flesh, they never arrive at the end of righteousness." Calvin also wrote, "We shall not find a single saint who, clothed with a mortal body, ever attained to such perfection as to love the Lord with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength." Thus the righteousness of the saints is positional and they remain sinners until their death.
Luther taught an alien righteousness. "Our faith depends solely on Christ. He alone is righteous, and I am not." Luther taught that man was at the same time just and yet sinful (simul justus et peccator). Thus, there was not much emphasis on imparted or infused righteousness.
Regeneration and sanctification were not necessarily connected with justification under the old covenant. Wesley taught the Christian dispensation was higher than the Jewish standard. He reasoned that if we enter the kingdom of God by the new birth (as John 3:5 teaches), and if John the Baptist was not in the kingdom because it did not come until Pentecost, then neither John the Baptist, Abraham, David, nor any Jew was born again ["Christian Perfection,"2.10-11]. Wesley declared, "The faith through which we are saved . . . is not barely that which the apostles themselves had while Christ was yet upon the earth" ["Salvation by Faith,"1.3]. Wesley concluded, "The Apostles themselves had not the proper Christian faith till after the Day of Pentecost" [Works, 8:291]. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ could not be proclaimed nor believed until they had become facts.
However, regeneration and sanctification are connected with justification under the new covenant. Under the old covenant we have imputed righteousness, but under the new covenant we have both imputed and imparted righteousness. This was the theology of John Fletcher who taught that pre-Pentecost believers were justified, but not regenerated.
In his chapter on "The Righteousness, Salvation, and Election of God and of His People," Ben Witherington concluded that Paul believes once people are converted, God expects them to actually go on and live righteous lives. Paul does not talk about Christ being righteousness in the place of the believer or about the believer being clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone. Even farther off the mark is the notion that when God looks at believers, he sees only Christ and so neither holds believers accountable for their actions nor views sin as a threat to their sanctification and final salvation. Were it the case that when God looks at believers, he only sees Christ, that in turn would mean that God is prepared to be deceived or at least overlook Christian sin and not hold believers accountable for it. This is the direct opposite of what Paul says in Galatians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6. These ideas amount to a presentation to us of a God of legal fictions who in the end is less than totally righteous. This would contradict the teaching of Jesus that God was requiring a higher righteousness of Jesus' followers than Moses required of his, indeed even higher than the very particular Pharisees. It may be asked, "Why would God expect less of the believer under grace and after the Spirit has been given than he expected and required under the Mosaic Law?"
The problem is not with the idea that justification is initially an "alien righteousness" or a righteousness which originates outside of mankind, the real problem arises when sanctification is also regarded as imputed. This is the danger of Phoebe Palmer's altar theology.
In Romans dikaios is translated "just" four times and "righteous" three times in the KJV. Justification is imputed and righteousness is imparted. Joseph Sutcliffe concluded that if the active and passive righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, we do not need the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit to make us righteous. Wesleyan theology insists that justification must be connected with a regeneration which is transformational.
Fletcher explained that we are made righteous, not by a speculative imputation of the works of Christ, but by being made partakers of the divine nature, begotten of God, and clothed with righteousness and true holiness. In Romans 13:14 Paul commands us to "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
Paul used dikaiosune thirty-six times in Romans. While it is translated "righteousness," the older English spelling was "rightwiseness." It refers to the character or quality of being right or just in the sight of God. In Romans 5, five related words are used which all come from the root word dike, which means "justice." The KJV translates them as "justified," "justification," "righteousness," "righteous," and "righteousness." The righteous act of Jesus Christ provides justification. Through faith in him we were justified and made righteous. According to A. T. Robertson, when Paul used the word "righteousness" he meant both justification and sanctification. The Gospel reveals both "the righteousness that God has and that he bestows."
W. E. Vine explained that "for" (eis) did not mean that faith was reckoned "instead of" righteousness, but "with a view to" righteousness. Thus, when Paul describes the Gospel as a righteousness from God (Rom 1:17), he is saying that the Gospel is the declaration that God's method of salvation is to make us righteous. This righteousness is by faith and not by works, but the result is that "the righteous will live by faith."
Joseph Sutcliffe observed at Romans 5:1 that "Justification is never alone; all the graces follow in clusters, with privileges of the highest order." According to Romans 5:5, the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit at the same time we are justified. The love of God was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us [aorist passive participle] when we were justified [v 1, aorist passive participle]. Thus, justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit both occur at the same time, since having been justified and having been given both occur at the moment of saving faith. John Stott declared that "it is not possible to be justified by faith without at the same time being regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit."
Wesley maintained that regeneration is concomitant with justification.
And at the same moment that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins. In that instant we are "born again", "born from above", "born of the Spirit". There is a real as well as a relative change.
H. Orton Wiley declared, "Regeneration is concomitant in experience with justification and adoption." Watson also declared that while regeneration was distinct from justification as an act, it always accompanies it in a point of time. In his sermon "Justification by Faith," Wesley declared that justification is not "the being made actually just and righteous. This is sanctification; which is indeed in some degree the immediate fruit of justification, but nevertheless is a distinct gift of God." Wesley declared that "at the same time a man is justified sanctification properly begins."
Wesley explained that the term sanctification refers to those who are justified unless it is qualified by another word such as "wholly" or "entirely." Thus, in Romans 6 justification and initial sanctification are bound together. Paul is still dealing with justification and its concomitant blessings since the chapter opens with the connecting participle oun.
Romans 6:7 literally says that the one having died has been justified from sin. Justification, through participation in Christ's death, is the basis for freedom from sin. Verses 18 and 22 also teach that we are freed from sin. Thus, the justified are not to go on sinning (vv 1, 15). Joseph Benson explained that the sinner is freed from the guilt of the past and the power of present sin, as dead men from the commands of their former masters.
In Romans 6:11 Paul exhorts us to reckon (logizomai) ourselves dead to sin. In so doing, Paul uses the same word he utilized eleven times in Romans 4. However, in Romans 4 it is God who does the reckoning or imputing. In Romans 6:11 the believer is to reckon or impute himself dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is a command for believers to be what they are. We are exhorted to cooperate with grace and realize our new life in Christ by stopping sin from reigning over us. Obviously, logizomai is used here to mean more than legal imputation. This is also the case with its usage in Rom 8:18. According to vv 18 and 22, the justified have also been set free from sin. The result is that because we have been justified, we are no longer slaves to sin (vv 6, 14). Romans 6:23 summarizes the chapter with a closing reference to the gift of God (v 23). This free gift is justification with all its concomitants.
Romans 8:1 deals with imputed righteousness as the nonimputation of sin. But in 8:1-4 the result of this justification is not merely forensic or legal, it is transformational. The justified believer no longer walks according to the sinful nature. Thus, imputed and imparted righteousness are connected. Justification is connected with sanctification.
Again in Romans 8:30 we find that justification stands for all the concomitants of grace which occur between the Gospel call and final glorification. It is inconsistent with scripture to teach that one can become born again without any change. The goal of predestination in Romans 8:29 is conformity to the image of Christ both now and more fully in the age to come. Two natures may exist in the life of the justified, but only one can control. Wesley taught that while the old nature remained, the new nature reigned. Those who are born again do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Thus, we need to maintain the biblical balance between the initial imputation of righteousness based on faith in Christ and the impartation of righteousness through the gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.
This is an edited version of a paper given at the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta on November 17, 2010