Booklet: Imputation of
Righteousness & Covenant Theology
By Walter J. Chantry
overview of Romans
Paulís great theme in
Romans is righteousness, in particular the righteousness of God. ďI
am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believesÖ for in the gospel the
righteousness of God is revealed,Ē (Romans 1:16, 17). The
Christian gospel is about righteousness.
Indictment Against Humanity
Paul began explaining
the gospel by telling us that ďthe wrath of God is being revealed
from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,Ē
(Romans 1:18). His point was not that if the people of the Roman
Empire did not repent, that Godís wrath would fall on them. His
message was that the wrath of God was already active and evidently
upon them. At a time still future when he wrote, Godís wrath would be
seen as the Vandals battered down their gates and plundered their
cities. But long before this terrifying, destructive blow, Godís wrath
was to be seen in His allowing the empire to wallow in moral filth and
debauchery. He permitted Romans to corrupt themselves and to follow
every lustful desire of their hearts without restraint. This was the
wrath of God in its early stages, already fallen as Paulís letter was
Precisely the same
message is obviously applicable to the United States of today. We are
not speaking of a message that the wrath of God will one day fall on
America if we do not repent. Rather, the wrath of God has already
evidently fallen on our land. God has given an ungodly and unrighteous
over to the sinful desires of her heart and to the most degraded
behavior. Because our land has given up on God, He has given up our
nation to self-inflicted miseries. His wrath begins to destroy with
unbridled shameful lusts, depraved minds and filthy practices too
numerous to mention.
There follows in
Romans chapters 2 and 3 a most powerful indictment of all humanity as
unrighteous. All without exception ďhave sinned and fall short of
the glory of God,Ē (Romans 3:23). That is, no one measures up to
Godís own righteousness, which is His glory! How then can any sinner
hope to possess the righteousness of God? The Almighty demands nothing
less or divine wrath will fall upon the deficient.
Of course, Paul has
given us the solution to this vital question from the beginning of his
letter to Rome. ďThe righteous will live by faith,Ē (Romans
1:17b). We can only be justified (that is, declared to have the
righteousness of God) through faith in Jesusí blood (Romans 3:24, 25).
Faith in Jesus Christ is the instrument which receives the
righteousness of God as a free gift of grace.
Still, that is not
the end of Paulís discussion. Because having the righteousness of God
is all important to each of us, he feels compelled to explain it
further. Chapter 4 tells us that when an individual believes in Jesus,
a transaction takes place in heaven. Paul uses the historic and
biblical example of Abraham to describe what transpires when a person
believes. A new word is introduced to explain the heavenly occurrence
that gave Abraham the righteousness of God through the instrument of
faith. That word is used over and over to imprint on our minds the
heavenly transaction. It is the biblical doctrine of imputation.
The King James
version uses three different English words to translate this word.
They are impute, reckon, and count. Because this
one word, used eleven times within the chapter, is precisely the
emphasis of the chapter, the New International version wisely uses
only one English word consistently, the word credit. The Greek
word is a commercial term that all will easily understand by the word
credit. We understand crediting someoneís account on a ledger
or in a computer.
When a sinner
believes in the Lord Jesus, the righteousness of God is credited to
him. In the accounts of heaven the righteousness of God is credited to
believers. When, on the day of judgment, believers stand before God,
He will check His heavenly accounts and will find deposited in their
account the righteousness of God. This is the extraordinary good news
of the gospel. By faith in Jesus, the righteousness of God is credited
to sinnersí accounts, or is imputed to them. Although this news brings
great hope and joy and peace to our hearts as the early verses of
Romans 5 express, this heavenly transaction raises a question. How
does Godís bookkeeping work? How can a just and fair God credit the
account of a sinner with the righteousness of God? Is God an honorable
judge in doing this, or has He cooked the books of heaven?
How Does God
Deal With Humanity?
On what principle has
God acted in crediting a believing sinner with the righteousness of
God? I have been sinful, not righteous. How can God change my account
from a debit to a credit? How does the accounting system of heaven
work? What is this imputation of Chapter 4? That is the subject taken
up in Romans 5:12-19.
To answer the above
questions, to explain how imputation can occur, to describe how the
righteousness of God can be credited to believing sinners like
Abraham, this passage focuses on a principle employed by the living
God in His government of our human race. You are living in Godís
world. The Almighty made the world and made us who live in it. He
sovereignly administers all of the affairs of our human race. At the
end of your days you will stand before the King of Kings and He will
judge you. The principle spoken of in this section of Romans is
central in Godís administration of humanity and will be prominent in
the decision process when you stand before God to be judged.
It is of great
importance for you to understand how Godís world and Godís government
and Godís courts work. If you were going into one of the courtrooms in
the country in which you live and you were only going to be an
observer, it would not be urgent that you understand how the court
operates. But if you were entering the courtroom as a defendant, it
would be of immense consequence that you comprehend the basis on which
your case would be decided. Some day you will be a defendant and God
will be your judge. The principle of Godís justice revealed in this
passage will play a vital role in Godís decision of your case. You
must understand the system in which you live. You must be aware of
what the rules are.
Here we discover that
it has pleased our Maker to employ the device of representation in
managing His system of justice for us. He does not always treat human
beings merely as individuals. In the greatest of all transactions that
have to do with our human race and with us, God has dealt with us, not
directly, but through our representatives. Theologians call this the
federal system and we will show in Romans 5 the actual verses where
this is being taught. The federal system is foundational to what our
confession of faith refers to as the covenants. It is at the
heart of what people refer to as Covenant Theology.
The Lord of heaven
and earth, in His administration of humanity, has appointed for us a
head, or a representative. The representative is one of our own, a
true human being who is to act for us before God in His system of
justice. In other words, the Most High employs the mechanism of
collective or corporate management. This is a fact taught in Scripture
with which we must all come to terms.
We understand this on
an earthly level. Some of the decisions which have the most
far-reaching impact on your life are made for you by representatives.
You cannot act directly in international affairs. You have
representatives in Washington. When they make decisions, they are your
decisions, whether you like them or not. If your representatives
declare war, you are at war. It will do no good to cry, ďI didnít
vote for him and I disagree with his behavior in this matter.Ē
Your heads have plunged you into war with all of its consequences. We
Some of you work for
large corporations. It is not possible for every employee to sit down
with the CEO or president of the corporation and to negotiate his
personal working arrangement. There are representatives who conduct
collective bargaining. Your future income and working conditions will
rise and fall with the wisdom and effectiveness of the person
representing you in collective bargaining.
This is even true
socially in our families. If fathers act with wisdom in working hard,
managing finances with skill, making educational and spiritual
decisions with insight, it will have important consequences for their
children. Very few children would have chosen the social, economic and
emotional consequences which they bear from their parentsí divorce.
V. The Histories of Adam & Jesus
In Godís world there
is representation or collective bargaining. When the Holy One made the
human race, He appointed Adam as our head. The Lord assigned Adam a
test that was more than personal. It was a test for Adam and for all
whom he represented. Adam was in collective bargaining for himself and
for all who would be born of him by natural generation. The
consequences of that test would have the most wide-ranging effect and
profound impact upon everyone of his posterity, everyone who was in
Adam, everyone whom he represented. It was God who set up the
mechanism of representation and who appointed the representative. Adam
took the test for us all.
In Romans 5:12 the
Scriptures speak of this governmental arrangement: ďTherefore, just
as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and
in this way death came to all men because all sinned.Ē This is an
astounding statement that one man has brought sin and death upon us
all. That is not the common thought people have as to how God is going
to deal with us.
When it says in verse
12, ďand in this way death came to all men because all sinned,Ē
it is not saying that all sinned because all did the same thing that
Adam did. The proof that the verse is not saying that is found in
verse 14, where we read, ďNevertheless, death reigned from the time
of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by
breaking a command, as did Adam.Ē Some never sinned personally as
Adam did, but they were in him, represented by him. He acted for them
and they die as the consequence of Adamís first foul deed. Because of
one manís one sinful deed, all are sinners. All are constituted
sinners, all are condemned and all are destined to die. Verse 18:
ďthe result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.Ē Verse
19, ďthrough the disobedience of the one man the many were
constituted sinners.Ē The entire passage is repetitious for
emphasis that one act of the one man made many sinners and brought to
the many condemnation and death.
What the passage is
teaching is that the most horrible realities of our human existence
are all the consequences of the one act of one man, our
representative, Adam. ďIn sin your mother conceived you,Ē
(Psalm 51:5) and ďfrom the womb you have been wayward speaking
lies,Ē (Psalm 58:3). Your sinful constitution is the direct result
of the one act of the one man in his failure of the representative
test. From the first instant of your existence, you have been
condemned by God because of the one act of the one man. From the time
of your conception, death began to stalk you with the assurance that
you were his as a consequence of the one act of the one man.
To be very blunt, God
holds you responsible for another manís act. The Lord is not arbitrary
about his. It does not mean that, when you stand before God and the
books are opened, you will be credited with the sin of some unknown,
distant relative. This mechanism of being credited with another manís
act is only employed in the case of divinely appointed
representatives. Adam was such a person.
There is only one
other individual who has served in a similar capacity as
representative for vast numbers of the human race in Godís scheme of
government. Only one other was appointed by God for collective
bargaining with heaven on behalf of members of the human race. That
other person is Jesus Christ. To show that He is the only man beside
Adam to serve as a federal representative, Jesus is called the second
Adam, (I Corinthians
Romans 5:18, 19
clearly draws the parallel function of Christ and Adam. ďJust as
the result of one trespass was condemnation for all, so also the
result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life
for all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many
were constituted sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man
the many will be constituted righteous.Ē Because of the one
righteous act of the one man, Jesus Christ, multitudes will be
justified before God (declared to have the righteousness of God).
All who were in Adam
were constituted sinners, were condemned, and were sentenced to die.
All who were in Christ will be constituted righteous, will be
justified, and will have eternal life. How can God credit the account
of a sinner, like Abraham or like me, with the righteousness of God
(Romans 4)? The answer: on the basis of Godís great representative
principle, of His governing the human race in a federal manner, of His
administering humanity under a covenantal arrangement (Romans 5).
This is a great fact
of our world. God governs the human race on a collective basis, under
heads whom He appoints. Actions and decisions of the two federal heads
are imputed or credited to those whom they represent. In other words,
we bear the responsibility for what these representatives have done.
In one case, the act of one man led to condemnation and death for a
vast multitude. In the other case, the one act of one man led to
justification and life for a vast multitude. Our lives are profoundly
determined in time and in eternity by representatives. The histories
of Adam and Jesus are not merely interesting curiosities of the past.
They determine oneís destiny. These two acted for us as
You can imagine that
some people hate this Bible teaching with a passion. Those who have a
great sense of independence and individualism want to stand on their
own two feet, to be captain of their own fate, to get what is coming
to themselves. Those who have great confidence in human nature and
those who believe that, on their own, men can reach nobility, virtue
or goodness, will deplore the idea of imputation. Whether confidence
is placed in human intellect or human will or basic human moral
goodness, multitudes will have nothing to do with a federal head
determining their ultimate ends. There is a violent human reaction
against God crediting one man with the act of another man.
It is complained that
it would be unjust for God to view one person as responsible for
another personís actions. That would be called unfair. This is
not only the criticism of Christianity by unbelievers; it is the
serious objection of theologians like Pelagius and Arminius, and it is
the response of multitudes who call themselves evangelical Christians.
There are two answers
to these objections. First, justice is to be defined by a holy and
just God, not by a corrupt and criminally guilty mankind. Our Maker
will determine how to administer this humanity; the creatures will not
dictate to the Creator. Secondly, if it is unfair for God to condemn
us for the act of Adam, then there is no vehicle or mechanism to save
sinners, for it would be equally unfair to save a sinner on the basis
of what Jesus Christ has done. The entire apparatus for saving sinners
rests upon the same administrative principle by which we were
condemned in Adam Ė imputation.
People are especially
disturbed by the biblical doctrine of original sin. Especially in our
democratic society people cry, ďI didnít vote for Adam and I didnít
ask him to plunge me into condemnation and death.Ē However, when a
sinner looks to the cross and discovers that he may have the
righteousness of God credited to him on the basis of the one act of
Jesus, he is delighted with the device of administration called
imputation. Our New Testament rings with awareness of this
representative principle: ďAs in Adam all die so in
Christ all will be made alive,Ē (I Corinthians 15:22). In Adam and
in Christ, there is no third category. ďGod made him who had no sin
to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of
God,Ē (II Corinthians 5:21).
This teaching of
Romans 5 and of all the Scripture has been called Covenant Theology.
These two great covenants for humanity are described in Chapters 6 and
7 of our
London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.
Arising from passages like Genesis 2 and 3 and Romans 5:12-21 these
two arrangements (covenants), made by God with mankindís only two
federal heads, find all of Scripture organized under them. The
understanding that there are only two covenants or two representatives
whose actions are imputed to all who were in them gives struct9ure for
understanding Godís Word. There have only been two arrangements by
which men might have the favor and blessing of God, one in Adam and
one in Christ.
When God made man, He
very clearly published the terms under which innocent man could
continue to enjoy Godís favor and blessing. Adam out representative
was required to continue in righteousness under a test. Adam failed.
His fall plunged us into guilt, shame and misery.
(Genesis 3:15) published a way for sinners, fallen in Adam, to have
righteousness and thereby restoration to Godís favor and blessing. It
would be by the person and work of another representative, Jesus the
coming Savior. This was by grace through faith in the Son of God,
whose one act would credit us who believe in him with the
righteousness of God.
Both of these covenants are in force today. The covenant in which Adam
represented us has not been set aside and forgotten. All the
arrangements of that agreement are still in force. People are born
sinners, condemned by God and die because the Almighty is enforcing
the terms of the covenant made with Adam. Unless somehow people are
savingly united to Jesus Christ (the second and last Adam), the
covenant with Adam will determine their destinies forever and ever.
Union with Jesus Christ is a necessity because the first covenant has
not been canceled by God. Again we return to the issue that God will
deal with you under one of two representatives whom He appointed.
Scripture tells us of various historic covenants that followed His
arrangement with Adam. He made covenants with Abraham, Moses, David
and Christ. But all of these are merely various administrations of the
one Covenant of Grace in which Jesus is the appointed representative
and in which men are saved by grace through faith in the Messiah.
When Adam heard Genesis 3:15, he began to look forward in hope to the
seed of the woman (Jesus Christ). The first words out of Adamís mouth,
after God pronounced the curses for the broken covenant, were to call
his wife ďEve, because she would become the mother of all the
livingĒ (Genesis 3:20). Adam, after the Fall, and the patriarchs,
and Abraham, and Moses, and David all trusted in a second
representative, or covenant head, Jesus Christ. As time went by the
arrangement to have one act of one man provide the righteousness of
God for believers became more and more plain Ė but it was one and the
same covenant arrangement.
VIII. Imputation & Calvinism
Not only is the
doctrine of imputation a key to understanding the relationship of Old
Testament and New Testament, it is also the linchpin of Calvinism. You
know what a linchpin is. A tricycle usually has a solid axle on the
back that holds two of its three wheels. On the axle, outside the two
wheels, are small holes through which steel pins are placed and bent
over. They are the linchpins which hold the wheels on. If a linchpin
breaks or falls out, the wheel will fall off and the tricycle will be
Historically, men who dislike Calvinism try to destroy that doctrine
by cutting off the linchpin of imputation. Enemies have wisely
discerned that if imputation can be successfully attacked, Calvinism
will be dismantled and broken. Such assaults usually begin with a high
appreciation of man-centered philosophy. All humanistic systems assert
that it would not be fair for God to hold one man accountable for
another manís action. Once that has been accepted, original sin or the
imputation of Adamís sin to us is denied. Following this, particular
atonement is overthrown and Calvinism is gone.
IX. The Influence of the School Of Saumur
In fact, that is what
occurred at the school of Saumur, France, shortly after the death of
John Calvin. Saumur was a French Protestant Theological School in
which professors were greatly influenced by the philosophy of a
Protestant humanist named Ramus. A change in teaching took place
within the school over a number of years.
John Cameron, a Scot, was teaching at Saumur. He began to make a
distinction between manís natural ability and manís moral inability as
he taught on the subject of the human will. This, you see, would exalt
the will of man and exalt manís influence over his own destiny.
As years passed, other theologians who were taught by Cameron
developed his thoughts further. A man named LaPlace attacked the
doctrine of original sin. He claimed that it would not be right for
God to impute the act of Adam to other men. Because French Protestants
were virtually all Calvinists, he could not eliminate the word
imputation. Rather he invented the term mediate imputation.
His theory was that men become sinners and are condemned and subject
to death only when they themselves sin. You can see that there is no
imputation at all in his theory. Yet this is the most popular theory
today among evangelical Christians. They believe that men hold their
destinies in their own hands.
As LaPlace developed his teaching, alongside him labored Moyse Amyraut.
You may have heard of Amyraldanism. Some people think Amyraldanism is
four-point Calvinism, the view of people who are getting close, but
have not quite seen all of the implications of Godís sovereignty. Of
course Amyraut did indeed attack the doctrine of limited atonement.
However, Amyraut was logically working through the humanism of Ramus,
the exalted human will of Cameron, and the denial of the imputation of
Adamís first sin by LaPlace. He developed what has been called
theoretical universalism as his view of Christís atonement. By
this process Calvinism was gone at Saumur. Realizing the import of the
Saumur teaching, true Calvinists found it necessary to teach
extensively on the covenant structure of Godís dealings with mankind,
especially emphasizing the doctrine of imputation.
A parallel course may be found in American church history. All of us
are aware of the godly contributions of Jonathan Edwards to the Great
Awakening. Perhaps less known is the fact that Jonathan Edwards wrote
a very scholarly treatise on manís will in which he used the precise
language of John Cameron. He too distinguishes between the natural
ability of man and the moral inability of man.
The immediate students of Edwards, including his own son, very
directly attacked the concept of the imputation of Adamís sin to his
posterity. They claimed that Edwards himself had led them in this
direction. New England theology was then on its way. Manís will was
elevated, and the principle that God can impute the action of one man
to another was denied. Out of New England theology came uncalvinistic
Presbyterianism, Charles Finney-style evangelism and other tendencies
that exalt man (and especially his will) at great cost to Godís
All of this shows that the doctrine of imputation is the linchpin of
Calvinism. Some of you are very excited about Calvinism. You love the
truths of Sovereign Grace in the salvation of man. But why do churches
give up Calvinism after it has been taught to them? Over and over
again it is assaulted over the issue of imputation and the system of
There is one further
implication of Romans 5:12-21 that I must mention. Imputation is the
keystone of the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement. What
is a keystone? It is the topmost stone in an arch. As an arch comes
together at its center, there is one stone (a keystone) upon which
both sides of the arch lean. All that has to do with substitutionary
atonement leans on the doctrine of imputation. Remove the keystone and
all will collapse.
This is what Paul has been saying in Romans. In 4:25 we are told that
Christ ďwas delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to
life for our justification.Ē This message required a discussion of
imputation in Chapter 5. Jesus was held accountable for our sins. We
are credited with his act on the cross. That is how we receive the
righteousness of God! When, for any reason, the biblical teaching of
Godís crediting one man for another manís actions is attacked, the
very idea of substitutionary atonement is under attack. If such
attacks are carried to their necessary and logical conclusions, the
biblical ideas of the atonement will disappear.
Limited atonement is the only view that consistently and faithfully
defends substitutionary atonement. Limited atonement speaks more about
the nature of the atonement than about its extent. The two questions
are always mutually influencing. If you do not like the idea of one
man actually representing other individuals who are credited with his
acts, then you must define Jesus on the cross as something other than
In fact, Saumurís theology and New England theology eventually
redefined the nature of the atonement! If you exalt the will of man,
atonement will suffer. If you deny the imputation of Adamís sin,
suggesting that Adam was only an influence on others, and that men are
condemned only for their own sins, you will redefine the cross. Soon
you will not like hymns that say, ďbearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood ÖĒ
Eventually those who deny imputation will deny Christ suffering as our
Biblical doctrines rely on one another and influence each other. The
history of the church has shown that an attack on one teaching will
affect other teachings. The book of Romans is explaining to us the
gospel of Jesus Christ. This matter of imputation is very central to
understanding the transactions by which we are saved. Its denial will
have catastrophic consequences for understanding Scriptures, for the
doctrines of grace and for the atonement we hold so dear.
Published by The Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America