Our Sins Are Imputed to Christ
In this research I wish to present the essential fundamentals of what the Gospel of Christ is all about. This will lead us directly to the final teaching of the apostle Paul that he called “the Mystery.” This is the most advanced of all the teachings in the Holy Scriptures.
But before we look into that final teaching, we need to observe the fundamental role Christ Jesus played in rescuing us from sin and our alienation from God. To do this, we must comprehend the teaching of the apostle Paul that most theologians call Imputation. Just what is the meaning of that term? Indeed, why is it important when the word itself does not appear in the King James Bible? We will soon see how important it is to recognize this fundamental truth of how Christ assumes our debts in the eyes of the Father.
Surprisingly, the apostles in the New Testament forcefully show the simplicity of the subject of Imputation. Yet, the understanding of it has become one of the most complicated and contradictory topics in the whole Bible. Theologians and laity alike have greatly diverse views on the means to obtain salvation and what salvation entails in the first place. By the time you finish this book, the matter of our salvation in Christ will be comprehensible in the clearest possible way.
The Gospel of Christ is the message that leads one to salvation. It shows the essential steps one must take to secure the goal that God wishes all to attain. That objective is not merely for us to be saved from something. God wishes us to be saved to something.
The human race, with an acceptance of Christ, is destined to inherit a condition and quality of life beyond the imagination of man. 1 He is planning to make His children productive, creative, useful, and supremely happy within an environment of spiritual perfection, health, peace, and love. To secure such a salvation requires work. The ultimate utopia can only be accomplished through effort and this is what the Gospel is all about. It shows us the manner (the necessary work to be done) by which salvation can be achieved. Since mankind is the central factor in the plan of salvation, the Gospel must be taught, understood, and accepted in order that man may begin the process leading to the salvation which God wills all to attain.
What is the method by which a human can be saved? There is a certain and definite way to salvation. The way is found in the Gospel. Indeed, the early Christians called the Gospel of Christ by the simple term “the way” (Acts 9:2, 18:26, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22). It is a way more magnificent and wonderful than any have imagined. It is sensible, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. The central truth of it concerns Jesus Christ. It involves the reason for His life, His death, His resurrection, and His present existence. We need to know why Jesus Christ came into this earth to live a righteous life and to die on the tree of crucifixion. Through the teaching about His life and His death we will be able to understand the way to salvation.
The major teaching of the Bible — the key to understanding how a person obtains salvation — is that of Imputation. It is an important doctrine that shows the legal position that man now has with God as it relates to sin and death. It also shows the legal way God provides to place a man into a right relationship with Him. It establishes the method by which a man can obtain salvation. Any major dictionary of theology will explain the basic teaching of this biblical doctrine. It represents the bedrock principle that reveals the method God uses to bring men to salvation.
The Bible speaks of Imputation both in the Old and New Testaments, but the doctrine is given full discussion in the writings of Paul. What a beautiful and satisfying document it is. One could say that all the reasons surrounding Christ’s coming to this earth and His dying on the tree of crucifixion are found in this one teaching alone. It is not a staid and stuffy theological doctrine. It is no less than the foundational teaching of New Testament Christianity; and the central truths of the Bible could not be sustained without it. That is why the teaching of Imputation is most necessary for the Christian to understand.
First recognize what the word “Imputation” signifies. It is the noun form of the verb “to impute.” The dictionary will give both the ordinary secular and biblical usage of the word, which means “to attribute, to ascribe, or to lay to the charge of.” We must be concerned with the biblical usage, because that shows God’s meaning of the word. Any major dictionary defines the biblical meaning as “attribution of one person’s righteousness or guilt to another.” In simple language, it means to place the merits or the demerits of one person to the account of another.
Two everyday examples can be helpful in comprehending the biblical teaching. Let us say a father is the custodian of an office building which he cleans each evening. He becomes sick and is unable to do his job, but his grown son becomes a substitute for his father and takes over his responsibility until the father’s health is regained. At the end of the month the employer pays the father his full and normal wages. Why? Because the work which the son performed is imputed (or ascribed) to the father. The father still reaped the reward, though he did not do the work.
Another example can be given, this time on the negative side. If a younger son under the age of responsibility borrowed his neighbor’s bicycle and rode it into a tree, any damages for the act could be imputed to the father. In this case, the demerits of the son become the father’s responsibility.
These examples give some idea of what Imputation in the Bible means. The righteousness of the older son in doing his father’s work was imputed to the father. In the latter case, however, the demerits of the younger son were imputed to the father. These examples are common ones that could happen in today’s society. From this point of view, the doctrine of Imputation is not too foreign to any of us. In fact, we deal with such matters in many of our normal affairs of life.
In all sections of the Bible it is the prime doctrine around which all teachings involving salvation find their meaning. The doctrine of Imputation is well known in the Old Testament. The use of animal sacrifices in the forgiveness of sins, or offering them in praise and thanksgiving to God, is a cardinal example of Imputation. In the sacrificial system of ancient Israel, the animal being sacrificed took the place of the human offerer in matters dealing with sin and/or praise to God.
In the New Testament the doctrine has even more significance because Christ Jesus takes the place of mankind in paying the penalty for sins, as well as showing His obedience and praise to God. With Christ taking the place of mankind in matters dealing with sin and praise, we have the greatest example of Imputation in action. Bible Imputation is the bedrock of Christian doctrine that defines the substitutionary role of Christ as our sin-bearer. The legal basis of salvation rests upon it.
There are three major usages of Imputation in the New Testament. All are similar in intent, but are distinct as to function. The first usage is familiar to all Christians; the second is recognized by most; while the third is rarely understood. But the first and third usages are of vital importance in knowing what the Christian’s present legal standing is with God. Let us begin our study with that part of Imputation best understood by most Christians.
When Christ died on the tree of crucifixion, He was performing something for others. The sins of the whole world were imputed to Him and He died on the tree of crucifixion in the place of mankind.
“For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.”
2 Corinthians 5:14
“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.”
1 Corinthians 15:3
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
Or, to put it another way, God the Father
“made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
Christ became the bearer of our sins (they were imputed to Him) while we can now be reckoned as “sinless” in a legal sense because of Christ’s substitutionary role for us.
This brings us to an important aspect of the doctrine of Imputation. Not only does God the Father impute our sins (all our sins and those of the world) to the person of Christ, the Father also imputes the sins that Adam (our first parent) committed — to each of us who are Adam’s descendants.
The apostle Paul gave a very basic teaching regarding the sins of Adam, our first parent. Paul said, “By one man sin entered into the world” (Romans 5:12). The penalty for that sin was death (Romans 6:23). “And so death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12).
Though it is evident that all of Adam’s posterity have committed their own personal sins, Paul attached great legal significance to the sin which Adam himself committed. Paul shows that Adam’s sin relates to all his descendants. Every human who descends from Adam has the sin of Adam imputed to him or her. This included Joseph and Mary (the legal parents of Jesus) who were both children of Adam. From Paul’s point of view (as we will see) this made both of them sinners and this would have included all children born from them.
As we will see, the ovum that was impregnated in Mary through spiritual engenderment was itself of spiritual origin. That heavenly ovum was placed in Mary’s womb and then it was conceived through non-human means. This fact, as we will see, made Mary a surrogate mother of Jesus and not His actual “flesh and blood” mother that descended from the first Adam. I will have more to say on this later.
This procedure shows that Christ was not descended from Adam and Eve, but came directly by special engenderment from the Father in heaven. Christ was another Adam — the second or last Adam that the apostle Paul talked about in First Corinthians chapter 15. And though Christ was “made flesh” (a human as we are), He was not descended from our earthly father, Adam. Mary was simply a surrogate mother who supplied the physical nutriments within her womb to develop the “last Adam.” Had this not been the case, then Christ would have to be reckoned a sinner (with Adam’s sin imputed to Him) like all of us are. Christ did not inherit the sin of Adam from Joseph and Mary because Joseph and Mary were not His actual parents. Christ was created a fleshly being directly from God the Father in heaven.
Note how the apostle Paul makes a major point concerning Adam and his sin being passed on (in a legal sense) to all his children. Sin started out by Adam committing a single transgression. This made him a sinner and subject to death. But Paul does not leave the death penalty on Adam alone. Adam’s offense resulted in the death of many. Paul said: “Through the offense of one, many be dead.” It was not the personal offenses of men that result in their deaths, but the offense of the one person, Adam, that “the many be dead” (Romans 5:15). Paul made a legal case out of Adam’s offence. He imputes judgment for Adam’s sinful act to all men who came after him.
“By the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”
As clear as Paul can make it, he said that through the guilt of Adam we all partake in a judgment to condemnation, the judgment of death.
“By one man's [Adam’s] offence death reigned by one.”
The judgment of death because of Adam’s sin was imputed to the entire human race.
“For as by one man's disobedience [Adam’s sin] many were made sinners.”
It was not their own disobedience that made the many to be reckoned as sinners. Paul said it was Adam’s sin.
In the Greek, Paul spoke of “the many” (verses 15 and 19). The definite article “the” is there. This term is parallel with “all men” in verse 18. In that verse “all men” was used by Paul because the condemnation of Adam did in fact come upon all men — including Christ — for He was condemned to die (Matthew 20:18). Paul made a distinction, however, when he finally mentioned “the many.” Had he said “all men” were reckoned sinners, that would have legally included Christ as a sinner. Christ certainly inherited a “condemnation” as other humans that resulted in His death, but He did not inherit “sin,” or else He could not have been the sinless Son of God.
Christ’s actual father was God the Father and no sin can be attributed to Him. Thus, Paul said only “the many” were reckoned sinners. He manifestly left out Christ from “the many.” The rest of mankind who have Adam as their literal father (as you and I) are reckoned sinners by Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:19). 2
This teaching of Paul in Romans satisfactorily explains all important matters relating to the subject of sin and death. Suppose we humans never sinned a day in our lives. Paul shows we would still be classified as sinners.
Take a newborn baby as an example. When immediately born into the world, it could hardly be said to have been a participant in sin; but even David said, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). David was not saying his conception was a result of an adulterous union. Not at all. David simply meant he was conceived as a fleshly human being. And what is the spiritual condition of human flesh? Paul spoke of it as “sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). He shows that they who “are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8) because in flesh “dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18).
Even though babies just born into the world (or for several months thereafter) have not committed any actual sins of themselves, they still reap the consequences of sin. But whose sin? Their own? No, for it is obvious they have not consciously transgressed any law (Romans 5:13–14). The judgment of death has been imputed to the generality of the race because of Adam’s sin — this means all humans no matter the age they are. Adam’s sin is imputed to them.
To put it plainly, Paul taught that all of us are sinful (initially) because we inherited sinful flesh from our first father, Adam. This unmerited sinful nature may be, from mankind’s way of looking at it, an unfair placement of sin on all of us humans, but it is still God’s divine pronouncement of His will to have done so. We can do nothing but acquiesce to His assessment and to the reality of the indwelling sin intractably placed within our fleshly bodies by God. However, let us not be harsh in our judgment of this unmerited and unfair placement of sin within us by God because the Father (at the same time He told Paul of it) stated He will soon rescue us from this predicament without any efforts by us. God determined that Christ’s bearing of our sins will include even the inherited sin we have in our flesh because of the misdeeds of our first parent.
Though Paul said we all became sinners through Adam’s sin, is our personal character tarnished by this Imputation? To answer this, let us recall the example of Christ in relation to our sins being imputed to Him. When the sins of the world were placed on the head of Christ, He became, in a legal sense, the greatest sinner the world has ever seen. Still, Christ’s righteous character was not tainted in any way by the experience of bearing the sins of mankind. Christ was as sinless as any lamb was sinless when a human’s sins were confessed over it just before its sacrifice. The doctrine of Imputation shows that Christ bore all the sins of the world only in a legal sense.
Likewise, sin imputed to us from Adam does not blemish our actual character (we mar our characters when we personally participate in sin). After all, a newborn baby could have no actual sin of its own. Still, Paul said any human (even a baby) is accounted as being sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). We all need to be “saved” from it. All newborn babies receive their sinful flesh from Adam. This is what Paul meant when he said Adam’s transgression has been imputed to the whole of the human race.
We are all, legally, reckoned as sinners no matter if we never sinned a day in our lives. This is because we are constituted as “sinful flesh.” This is clearly an unfair and unjust placement of sin on us, done without our permission when we were in a helpless state and unable to do anything about this unwelcome assessment by God.
This is especially unfair and unjust if we are to be punished for this assessment by God when we did nothing of ourselves to deserve it. This is so plainly evident in any court of law (or in any logical judgment), that the whole procedure can be justified only by God granting a full release from the unwelcome sins that God placed within us; by God thoroughly and completely taking away from us this unasked-for sinfulness we each inherit.
God the Father has done that very thing, by placing that inherited sin from Adam — as well as every other sin that you and I have deliberately done as adults — on the back of His Son Christ Jesus. Though we did not ask to have it placed in us, that sinful nature inherited from Adam was placed in our flesh by God’s act of GRACE. This is also a positive side to GRACE. God also saves each of us INTO His family (without asking us and simply by His act of GRACE) by having His Son bear all our sins and be punished for them in our place — as our substitute.
If one looks closely at the biblical teaching, it is seen that the bearing of the world’s sins by Christ Jesus was something accomplished in Him from His birth — from the time He began to grow as a tender plant and as a shoot out of the dry ground (Isaiah 53:2). 3
One point must be understood about the conception of Christ. When the Father caused His conception to occur in the womb of Mary (John 1:14), it was not Mary’s physical ovum that was engendered to cause Christ to become “flesh.” 4 Christ became the seed of Mary (the woman of prophecy) by means of a heavenly-created ovum placed in Mary’s womb, which was then impregnated by the Spirit. Everything about Christ’s conception was spiritual and had nothing to do with the uniting of a human sperm with a human ovum.
The ovum impregnated by the Spirit was not from Mary’s ovum. Mary was actually a surrogate mother to Christ Jesus and neither her ovum nor Joseph’s sperm created Him. The fetus that grew in Mary’s womb was NOT a descendant of Adam and Eve (it would have inherited sin), but from a sinless God in heaven.
Likewise, that fetus of Jesus was sinless, as God in heaven is sinless. The fetus of itself was NOT YET Christ Jesus bearing the sins of the world because that fetus did NOT have sins on it. But as soon as that fetus became a living human being at its birth, a “living soul” breathing air into its lungs, that baby then had all the sins of the world placed on His back.
This means that Christ did not inherit any of Adam’s sins, but He came directly from heaven; the sperm and ovum that created Christ were heavenly in origin, not from Adam or Eve or Joseph or Mary. True, as surrogate parents, Christ was legally Joseph’s and Mary’s son (as far as the world was concerned and as far as prophetic matters require), but His origin was totally heavenly. He came from heaven where He had been for the previous eons reigning with the Father (Philippians 2:6–11). The fact that Christ was considered Joseph’s and Mary’s child (or being David’s progeny) was a legal recognition by God. However, even God’s legal acceptance is a true recognition of Christ’s descent from David.
In fact, both genealogical tables of Christ given in the New Testament are those of Joseph, the husband of Mary. It is usually assumed, without proof, that Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary. In no way is this so.
The New Testament states in clear terms that both genealogies are those of Joseph and that is how they should be accepted. But how can this be? Can Joseph have had two fathers? Yes, indeed. Since the genealogy given by Matthew was only a LEGAL genealogy, 5 it can be seen that this genealogy is maintained only by the rule of adoption — not by actual birth. The truth is, Salathiel of Matthew 1:12 was the adopted son of Jechonias. So likewise, Joseph must have been the adopted son of the Jacob mentioned in Matthew 1:16.
On the other hand, Luke’s genealogy is the actual physical descent of Joseph. In no way does Mary figure in either of the two genealogical lists. Mary is portrayed in the New Testament as having a Levitical blood line (even that from Aaron) because Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (who was clearly a priest) was a kinsperson to Mary (Luke 1:36). In spite of this Levitical connection, Christ Jesus was reckoned legally to be from Judah (Hebrews 7:14) through His legal father Joseph. Of course, all these matters are legal ones. Nonetheless, God looks on them as extremely important and they represent spiritual factors in the salvation plan of God and cannot be taken lightly.
Let us now look once more at the birth of Christ that took place in Bethlehem. When that birth (not conception) occurred, He at that moment began to bear the sins of mankind. It was only for legal purposes that Christ was “made to be sin” for all mankind throughout His life. The culmination of His role as our legal sin-bearer was performed when He died on the tree of crucifixion. As it says in Isaiah 53,
His role as sin-bearer lasted from His birth in Bethlehem to His death at Jerusalem. Christ was the one “who gave himself for our sins” (Galatians 1:4). Or, as Peter put it, Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
All these scriptures exemplify the doctrine of Imputation. Just as the ancient Israelite took a goat, laid his hands on its head and transferred (or imputed) his sins to the goat, then killed it in place of himself, so Christ accepted on His head all the sins of the world and died for you, me and all. This is an essential doctrine of the New Testament and the foundational teaching of Christianity.
One thing, however, must be made clear. The placing of the world’s sins on the head of Christ was only a legal placement. Let me explain. Christ was of Himself born into this world sinless and lived a sinless life on earth (1 Peter 2:22). It has not been understood by many, but since Christ Jesus was indeed “God,” and He was the “Logos” (who was “God), it was impossible for Jesus to actually sin no matter what He did or did not do. This was true because God sets all rules and He can do what He pleases in heaven or earth without anyone calling Him to the bar of judgment.
Understand this point carefully: Jesus was reckoned sinless by the apostles not because of what He did or did not do in the flesh, but because of who He was! And because He was indeed “God in the flesh,” it was impossible for humans ever to reckon the slightest sin in Him. Of course, Christ was morally and ethically upright in all things He did, but His sinlessness must always be evaluated by who He was, NOT because of what He did or did not do!
Let us look at this matter more closely. If Christ was “God” (or a part of the “God Family”) — and his name was Immanuel, “God With Us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8; Matthew 1:23) showing that He indeed was “God” — then it was impossible for God to sin.
Can any of us attribute any kind of sin to God even if He kills millions of human beings in a Flood like that of Noah? Or if He kills millions of people in the future as the Book of Revelation shows He will do? It would be effrontery and insubordination at the highest level even to think such a thought, let alone accuse God of sin for any actions that He does on earth or in the heavens (Romans 9:11–25). Let’s face it, God cannot sin. He makes up all the laws, and He can keep them as He pleases or violate them as He chooses and never sin once.
In another way of reckoning it, Christ was given a sinlessness by His Father THROUGH GRACE, not by any works He did or did not do and this sinlessness was given to Christ at His birth from Mary’s womb. The apostle John stated categorically, and with perfect logic, that anyone born of God (as Jesus was from the beginning) has the seed [sperm] of God within him; and as a result of having that implanted seed [sperm] the person cannot sin even if others think he sins. Note what John actually stated:
“Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed [God’s sperm] remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
1 John 3:9
And let us recognize a fact. Jesus was certainly “born of God” at His birth. This made Christ a sinless person in God’s eyes, although legally He was carrying on His holy person all the sins of the world as a substitute sin-bearer for each of us.
And remember, the apostles recognized Christ Jesus to be Immanuel, “God With Us.” As a sure consequence of this august name of Christ’s rank, He had to be reckoned as “sinless.” So, while Jesus was bearing the sins of the world during His thirty odd years of life and while hanging on the tree of crucifixion, He was quite sinless in all aspects of His life. No personal sins could actually be attributed to Christ Jesus.
However, God did place upon His Son our sins. This placement in no way changed the basic nature of Christ. His character did not become that of a murderer, a thief, or a blasphemer. His perfect attitude toward God and His character as a person was not altered by this placement of our sins on His person. While dying on the tree of crucifixion, He was punished severely as an innocent lamb and was Himself quite sinless. Nevertheless, He bore the sins of the whole world. This Imputation of sins to the person of Christ was only a legal or forensic placement. But so thoroughly was Christ reckoned as bearing the world’s sins that the apostle Paul said He was actually “made” to be sin incarnate (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This means Christ Jesus became the personification of sin, assuming total and absolute personification of naked and incarnate sinfulness. Until His death on the tree, this “sinfulness” included His flesh, His bones, and His blood. Everything about Christ was reckoned as corrupt “sin.” Only after Christ’s resurrection and acceptance by His father in heaven was His blood purified to be without spot in order for Him to sprinkle His own blood within the holy place in heaven to cleanse even heaven itself from its own pollution (Hebrews 9:11–14).
All of these acts of the Imputation of our sins to Christ, and our purification from sins through Christ’s actions on our behalf, are legal placements and do not actually show a literal contamination of Christ, a literal purification of Himself, or an actual freedom from defilement of ourselves. They do show, however, a literal Imputation of our sins to Christ, a literal purification by Christ of the throne of God in heaven and a legal purgation of every human being in the eyes of God the Father. These are legal and forensic requirements that God demands. The importance of them must be taken seriously.
Christ paid a supreme price to fulfill these judicial and legal parameters imposed on mankind by God the Father. Had He not done these legal actions for you, for me, and for all mankind, then we would have to fulfill them ourselves with disastrous consequence. But God the Father took out His vengeance for sin, the penalties for it, on His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ. He imputed our sins and the consequent punishments for our sins to the person of Christ. That is what we must look at now.
We will discover that in the plan of God, the Father not only makes His Firstborn Son Christ Jesus bear our sins (and those of the world) during His life and at the time of His crucifixion, but the Father also makes Christ Jesus bear the PUNISHMENT for all our sins IN OUR PLACE as a substitute for us. When Christ died on the tree of crucifixion, the Father in heaven reckoned that act of Christ as something being done in the place of each human on earth. It means simply that you reading this book, me and every other human on earth (who ever lived or will live) died in the Father’s eyes when Christ died as the punishment for sins at His crucifixion in Jerusalem. Let us look at this matter closely.
1 That life has nothing to do with being in a “church” atmosphere for all eternity. Only a minority of people would desire such an existence. God’s salvation involves far more. ELM
2 The foregoing may be technical and complicated to understand, but these precise distinctions made by the apostle Paul were important in his teaching and he was careful to write with utter precision about these significant matters. ELM
3 To understand the biblical reasons that show Christ was bearing the sins of the world throughout His life, see my book Secrets of Golgotha: The Lost History of Christ’s Crucifixion, 2nd edition (Portland, OR: ASK, 1996), at http://www.askelm.com/books/book001.asp. ELM
4 If this were so, Christ would have inherited Adam’s “sin” as shown by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 5. ELM
5 Simply, this is because Jehonias of verses 11 and 12 died childless and was cursed from having any children to sit on the throne of David — see Jeremiah 22:24–30 and Jeremiah 36:30. ELM
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