Craig’s Atonement and the Death of Christ– Part Twelve

Craig’s Atonement and the Death of Christ– Part Twelve April 1, 2021

Q. One place where we seem to diverge fairly significantly, if I am reading you correctly, is in regard to the imputation issue. Nothing is said in Romans about the imputation of Christ’s own righteousness (whether through his general obedience to God or more specifically his obedience by death of the cross) to the believer. The subject in Romans is the righteousness of God the Father, and this is simply not the same thing as Christ’s righteousness. God the Father did not die on the cross for our sins. While I think it is fine to say that we are reckoned in right standing with God as a result of the work of Christ on the cross, the right-standing with God is an actual re-establishment of a positive relationship with God, not a legal fiction. Furthermore, the new birth is coincident in time with justification or right standing with God, so it is not a good thing to insist that what happens at conversion does not involve a spiritual change in the new believer as well as his legal status before God. The verb logidzomai does not mean ‘imputed’. It is a business term which means ‘credited’ or ‘reckoned’, a very different matter. In the end, we need to realize that all this dikaios language in Romans is not merely about forensic or legal discussions, it is also about actual character— the character of God, and of his Christian people, just as you pointed out that the ‘righteousness’ language in the OT is about half the time referring to God’s character and the actions that flow from it, and about half the time refers to the law and legal matters. It’s both. Not either/or. The question is which sort of usage is more to the fore in Romans. I think we have some of both. Later in the book you rightly point out that while Augustine affirms the notion of penal substitution he has issues with the notion of imputation, and I would say— rightly so. Paul doesn’t say our sins were imputed to Christ, he says Christ was made sin for us. Clearly, this is metaphorical language because he doesn’t mean : 1) that Christ was made a sinner, nor 2) that somehow sin was placed like a pack on Jesus’ back, as if sin was a substance, nor 3) does he seem to mean more than that Christ bore the punishment for our sin in our place. And yes, there is a difference between saying that and saying he bore our guilt. Where do you find evidence that Christ bore our guilt as well as the just punishment for our sins?

The example of Abraham is important— Abraham’s own faith or trust in God is reckoned as Abraham’s righteousness. This has nothing to do with the imputation of Christ’s or God’s righteousness to Abraham. The language is not legal but rather mercantile anyway. Paul after all was a merchant— sold tents, did reckoning of credits and debits etc. What God wants of the convert is not merely a new relationship with him, but actual change in character involving actual holiness and righteousness. This is what sanctification is all about, and that process begins, as 1 Cor 12 says at the point when the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ and his body and becomes indwelling. God does not see Christ when he looks at us and he is not deceived about our ongoing sin. He sees saved persons on the way to being conformed to the very image of Christ. Furthermore, 1 Cor. 1 doesn’t refer to imputed righteousness either….. It reads literally “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, (who has become for us wisdom from God) righteousness, holiness and redemption.” This is about us becoming righteous, holy, redeemed, none of which Christ needed to become. Yes… it only happens because we are now in Christ Jesus, but this is not a matter of imputation…. It is a matter of impartation. We are being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4). This is why in 2 Cor. 5.21 Paul says that Christ was made the sin bearer in order that we might become the righteousness of God, in or through Him. Phil. 3.8-9 refers to a righteousness that comes from God to us through the faithfulness of Christ and our faith in Him. Since it is contrasted with a righteousness that comes from obeying the Mosaic law (which Paul previously kept) it seems clear to me that Paul is not merely referring to right standing with God here but something more. I’m sure you have a good critique of this, so please share it.

A. Oh, my goodness, it would require me to write an article to respond this this lengthy objection! I invite the reader to consider what I’ve written about the biblical doctrine of the imputation of our sin to Christ and of God’s righteousness to us (pp. 73-77) and to weigh your comments against mine. I content myself with a couple of clarifications: (1) It is a matter of indifference whether the imputation of divine righteousness to us is construed as either God’s or Christ’s. (2) Imputation is emphatically not a legal fiction. See my discussion of vicarious liability in contrast to legal fictions (pp. 186-93). (3) Of course, regeneration involves a spiritual change in the new believer as well as of his legal status before God. But justification is instantaneous and full, while sanctification is protracted and progressive. (4) Crediting or reckoning is the financial analog to the legal notion of imputation. You don’t have more money actually in your wallet in virtue of having a few noughts added to your account! (5) II Cor 5.21 must be interpreted in such a way that the two clauses are parallel. So it is untenable to say that we become actually virtuous but that Christ did not actually become an evil person. Better to say that Christ was reckoned legally guilty of our sin and we are reckoned divine righteousness. (6) If Abraham’s own faith in God were reckoned as Abraham’s righteousness, that would truly be a legal fiction (see my remarks on Gundry, p. 73n49)! Rather faith is the means by which divine righteousness is reckoned to us, which is, as I say, not a legal fiction, but true.


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