By Erwin R. Gane
Which view of salvation is correct?
Because there are so many different views of salvation held by Christians today, it would be unusual if someone did not ask, "How can we know which view is correct? If the scholars cannot agree, how can we be expected to understand salvation?"
Protestants and Catholics have dramatically different interpretations of the Bible teaching on salvation. Within Protestantism the various denominations rather strenuously contradict one another. The non-Christian looks on with a wry, skeptical grin as the various Christian churches hammer away at their theological opponents or ignore them as unworthy of charitable fellowship. Even worse, within any one communion there is so much confusion on the issue of salvation that the members have difficulty identifying the distinctive teachings of their church.
How did the Christian Church get into this mess? Why are there so many contradictions? Is the Bible so difficult to interpret on this most fundamental issue that confusion is inevitable? If that is so, how can any of us be saved? If it is so hard to understand how to be saved, many will give up in despair. They will blunder along hoping that, despite their confusion and the unsatisfactory nature of their spiritual lives, God will be merciful enough to take them to heaven.
In this article, we will compare the teachings of Jesus and Paul on the subject of salvation. As we do so, we ask, did they agree? What did Jesus mean by the new birth, and what did Paul mean by justification? Why are these experiences such good news for Christians today?
In His interview with Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus presented five principles of salvation. The legalistic Pharisee expressed wonder and doubt when he heard Jesus' explanation of how he could be saved. But the seed sown then bore fruit later. Those five principles became the guiding precepts of Nicodemus' life. And the same five principles were accepted and taught by the apostle Paul. Jesus and Paul used different imagery to describe salvation, but they taught the same good news. Peter thought Paul wrote some things difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15, 16). And so he did. But when we compare Scripture with Scripture and prayerfully seek to grasp Paul's meaning, it becomes delightfully relevant to our spiritual need and much more simple than learned scholars have sometimes made it.
What were Jesus' five principles of salvation which Paul accepted and promoted?
THE CROSS IS CENTRAL TO OUR SALVATION
The focal point of the picture of salvation that Jesus painted for Nicodemus was the vision of Himself hanging on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:14-16).(1)
On the cross, eternal God the Son was separated from eternal God the Father and eternal God the Holy Spirit. Because the unity of the Deity was severed, the suffering of the Deity was infinite. The Bible teaches that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Mal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:5, 6). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are so mysteriously united that together they are one God. But when Jesus was dying on the cross, He was separated from His Father and from the Holy Spirit because He was bearing the guilt of human sin.
Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would suffer the penalty for all the sins of mankind: "He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5, 6). Looking back on the cross, Peter took up the refrain: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). John chimed in with exultant praise: "He is the atoning sacrifice [expiation] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). And Paul added his voice to the chorus: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6, 8).
None of us can begin to understand the infinite intensity of Christ's suffering when separated from the Father because He was bearing our guilt. He cried out in agony that is beyond our comprehension, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Eternal God was separated from eternal God because of your sin and mine. And the suffering involved was sufficient to atone for all human sin no matter how long time should last.
This was the first principle of salvation Jesus presented to Nicodemus, and it was the most important truth that Paul proclaimed as he evangelized throughout the Mediterranean world. He wrote to the Corinthians: "I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures " (1 Cor. 15:3, 4; italics supplied). No aspect of Paul's teaching could compare with this in importance. If there had been no cross, there would be no salvation, the penalty for sin would not have been paid, and you and I would be destitute. Because Jesus successfully endured the suffering of the cross and rose again, we have hope. Eternal life is ours for the asking. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. . . . for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. . . . Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:17-23).
THE CROSS MAKES FORGIVENESS POSSIBLE.
The second principle of salvation Jesus gave Nicodemus was that, because Jesus suffered our penalty for sin, we can be forgiven. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned" (John 3:17, 18). If we are not condemned, we are forgiven. Praise God, because of the cross, we can be forgiven! Paul underlined the same liberating truth: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:1, 2).
Forgiveness is what Paul meant by justification. In Acts 13:38, 39 Paul speaks of forgiveness available through Christ, and he identifies forgiveness with justification. The passage translates literally from the Greek text: "Let it be known to you, men, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and from all things from which you were not able to be justified by the law of Moses, in this man all who believe are justified."(2) Forgiveness is justification.
Paul emphasized the same point in his epistle to the Romans. The person who does not try to earn his salvation by his own works, but "who believes in the One who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted (reckoned, imputed) for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).(3) The one "to whom God reckons [imputes, counts] righteousness apart from works" (verse 6) is the person "whose iniquities are forgiven" (verse 7). Paul quotes Psalm 32:1, 2. The individual to whom "the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2) is the "happy" person whose "transgression is forgiven" (verse 1). Paul's point is very simple. When the Lord forgives, He does not impute sin to a person. That is because He imputes or counts His righteousness. And this forgiveness which is the imputation of righteousness is justification. Thus in the passage we have three terms, all of which mean the same thing: (1) justification; (2) imputation of righteousness; and (3) forgiveness. When you are forgiven, you are justified, and Christ's righteousness is counted (imputed) for you.
What does God do for us when He forgives (justifies) us? The Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis. It means "release from captivity. . . . pardon, cancellation of an obligation, a punishment, or guilt."(4) During His earthly ministry Jesus provided forgiveness, deliverance from sin for His responsive hearers. Quoting Isaiah 61:1, 2, Jesus emphasized that His work was "to proclaim release [aphesis, forgiveness] to the captives" (Luke 4:18). The last phrase of the same text translates literally, "to send forth the crushed in forgiveness (aphesis). When Jesus forgives, he releases Satan's captives from the dominion of sin that binds them. This is not just something that happens in heaven. It is our spiritual experience of being released from the power of sin.
Paul taught the same truth when he identified deliverance from "the power of darkness" with redemption and forgiveness. "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:13, 14). When we accept Jesus' sacrifice as for us, He redeems us, buys us back from the slave-master who has bound us to lives of sin. And this deliverance from the mastery of sin occurs when God forgives us.
After his terrible sins of adultery and murder, David pled for forgiveness (Ps. 51:1). His understanding of forgiveness is revealed by the manner in which he asked for it. "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:2, 7).
God's forgiveness abolishes the guilt of our sin. But it does more than that. It cleanses our hearts, purifies our minds, delivers us from bondage. When God forgives, He transforms us. But, as we have seen, forgiveness is justification. Then justification involves both a legal and an experiential element. When God justifies us, He takes away our guilt and purifies our hearts.(5) When Jesus accepted the thief on the cross, he wiped out the guilt of his past sin and transformed his heart.
Some Christians speak of forgiveness as unconditional. But the Bible states a condition. "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Other passages of Scripture confront us with the same condition. "But if they confess their iniquity . . . then will I remember my covenant with Jacob" (Lev. 26:40-42). "When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed" (Num. 5:6, 7). "Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors" (Ezra 10:11). "No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Prov. 28:13). "Only acknowledge your guilt, that you have rebelled against the Lord your God" (Jer. 3:13).
God's love is unconditional. "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Jesus draws all people to Himself (John 12:32), even those who, He knows, will choose never to respond to his love. That is unconditional love. But forgiveness is conditional. God wants us to confess our sins to Him and seek the cleansing that He is longing to bestow.
THE CROSS MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS TO BE COUNTED FOR THE BELIEVER.
This third principle of salvation that Jesus presented to Nicodemus is contained in John 3:14, 15: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
Jesus was referring to the story recorded in Numbers 21:4-9. The people complained to God and Moses because they did not have the food they wanted. They were not satisfied with what God had provided for them, and they hated the discomfort of the wilderness. The Lord withdrew His protection from these faithless people and allowed poisonous snakes to invade their camp and bite them. Many Israelites died. Suffering and terrified, the people appealed to Moses, "'We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us'" (Num. 21:7). So Moses interceded with the Lord on behalf of his people. And God answered. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole; everyone who would look to it would live. When those who were bitten by snakes looked to the brass serpent, they were immediately healed.
The brass serpent on the pole represented Christ. The serpent is a symbol of sin, and Christ became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). When we look to Him we have healing and life.
The major point is that when the people looked to the serpent, because they were exercising faith in God, their sin was forgiven. The life of God was imputed to them, counted for them. His life replaced their sickness. They were spiritually and physically healed. They had no life of their own; they were dying. God's life became their life.
Just so, when we look to Jesus, His life, His righteousness is counted for us. His life becomes our life; His righteousness becomes our righteousness.
By means of an example, Jesus taught Nicodemus the same doctrine of imputation of righteousness that the apostle Paul later taught in his epistle to the Romans: "Therefore his faith [Abraham's faith] 'was reckoned to him as righteousness.' Now the words, 'it was reckoned to him,' were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:22-25).
The verb "to reckon" used in these verses may also be translated "to impute," or "to count." It is the Greek verb logizomai. This verb and its Hebrew equivalent chashav sometimes refer to a legal accounting of something. These verbs may also refer to a gift of something to someone. Both ideas are contained in a number of uses of chashav in the Hebrew Bible and of logizomai in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint).(6)
For example, 2 Samuel 4:2 reports that "Beeroth also was reckoned to Benjamin" (KJV). In the apportioning of the land to the various tribes, the town Beeroth was legally imputed, reckoned to the tribe of Benjamin. This legal accounting amounted to the gift of the town Beeroth to Benjamin.
Another Old Testament example of the use of the verb "to impute" is found in Numbers 18:27, 30. The tithe imputed to the priests was an actual gift of produce to them, one-tenth of which they paid as tithe and nine-tenths of which they and their families consumed.
In Romans, chapter 4, Paul takes the Old Testament concept of imputation and applies it to Christ's gift of His righteousness to the believer. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6: "For what does the scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'" (Rom. 4:3). Abraham's faith union with God was reckoned, imputed, or counted as righteousness because God's righteousness was given to him by the Holy Spirit. (See Gal. 3:1-14.) The legal reckoning of the righteousness of God to the believer is accompanied by the gift of His righteousness to the heart by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In Romans 4:4, Paul makes the point that wages are reckoned (imputed or counted; logizomai) to the one who works, because the wages have been earned. Verse 5 says that the gift of righteousness is reckoned (imputed or counted) to the one who has faith. In verse 4, the reckoning is a gift earned. In verse 5, the reckoning is a gift granted without any work on the part of the believer. In both verses the same verb is used (logizomai). There is a legal reckoning in both cases. In the case of righteousness by faith there is a legal reckoning of a gift that has not been earned, simply because believers have responded by faith to the grace of God extended to them.
Jesus and Paul are making the same point. Just as the life of God was reckoned to the dying Israelites who had been bitten by serpents, so the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us who believe. The life of Christ, His righteousness becomes ours in a legal and an experiential sense. The perfect righteousness of Christ is legally counted for us, and it is bestowed upon us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. His life becomes our life, not in the sense that we are made righteous independently of Him, but in the sense that His presence in our hearts gives us new spiritual life. The legal accounting is accompanied by an actual gift to our hearts, a gift that makes us new creatures in Christ Jesus. (See 2 Cor. 5:17, 21.) "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13, 14). The blessing of Abraham was the imputation of God's righteousness to him (Gal. 3:5-9). This blessing involved the gift "of the Spirit through faith" (verse 14). And the same gift is ours when Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. The Holy Spirit brings the righteous presence of Christ to our hearts, and He becomes to us "righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30).
THE CROSS MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS TO BE BESTOWED UPON US BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
We have noted this already. But significantly this is the point with which Jesus began His instruction to Nicodemus. "Jesus answered him, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above'" (verse 3). Nicodemus tried to evade the issue by pointing out the impossibility of physical rebirth. But Jesus would not be diverted. "'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above." The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit'" (John 3:5-8).
The phrase "born from above" may also be translated as in the King James Version, "born again."(7) Jesus told Nicodemus that salvation depends on the new birth. He identified salvation with the new birth as Paul identified salvation with justification. Jesus did not say that the new birth is the result of salvation, as some would have us believe. The new birth is salvation. It is not our work but God's work for and in us. "You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). The "imperishable seed" through whom we are born is the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus emphasized the importance of being born again by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus explained the meaning of the new birth by his allusion to the experience of the Israelites who were saved by looking to the brass serpent (John 3:14, 15). As we have seen, they received new life from God both legally and experientially. Legally, their sins were forgiven and the life of God was counted for them. At the same time, in personal experience the life of God became their life; they were healed spiritually and physically. They were born again, born of the Spirit, forgiven, changed in heart, renewed, transformed. The new birth (John 3:3-8) includes God's legal declaration that we are forgiven and that His life is counted for us. It also includes God's bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon us as a truly life-changing presence in our hearts.
The apostle Paul taught the same truth. When he spoke of the free gift of the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:21-26), Paul was defining justification. In His act of justifying believers in Christ, God, the heavenly Judge does two things for them: (1) He acquits them of their past sins and counts the righteousness of Christ for them; (2) He bestows His righteousness upon them by the gift of the Holy Spirit. All that Jesus meant by the new birth, Paul meant by justification.
Ever since the latter half of the sixteenth century, some scholars have been asserting that justification is only a legal declaration of forgiveness and of the righteousness of Christ counted for believers who are never righteous.(8) But Jesus taught Nicodemus that the gift of the Spirit to the heart is essential to salvation. And Paul identified justification with the gift of grace (Rom. 3:24), a gift that always involves the bestowal of spiritual power to the life of the believer by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Cor. 1:4, 5; 15:10; 2 Cor. 8:1, 2; 9:8, 14; Gal. 2:9; 2 Tim. 2:1; Heb. 13:9.)
Justification, the gift of the righteousness of God, spoken of in Romans 3 is illustrated in Romans 4 by the imputation of righteousness to Abraham and to those who believe as he did. Jesus' explanation to Nicodemus began with the gift of the Spirit (John 3:3-8) and continued with the imputation of God's life to the believer (verses 14, 15).
In Romans 5, justification by faith, by which we have peace with God (verse 1), involves "love . . . poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (verse 5). In Romans 6, the death of the "old man," the old life of habitual sinning, is identified as justification. Verse 7 translates literally: "For he who has died has been justified from sin."(9) The result is that believers have been "set free from sin, and have become slaves of righteousness" (verse 18). In Romans 7, justification is the death of the first husband (the "old man" of sin) and marriage to Christ (verses 1-6) which makes possible "the new life of the Spirit" (verse 6). In Romans 8, justification is described as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" that "has set you free from the law of sin and death" (verse 2). Now the Spirit within is Christ within, and He is your "life because of righteousness" (verses 9, 10).
The artificial outline imposed on the book of Romans by some scholars, by which they argue that chapters 3--5 discuss justification and chapters 6--8 discuss sanctification, does a gross injustice to Paul's meaning. Chapters 6--8 are just as much about justification as the earlier chapters.
In his epistle to Titus, Paul clearly defined justification as the new birth. "Not by works in righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of rebirth (paliggenesia) and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might be heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7).(10)
"He saved us . . . so that having been justified. . . ." Christ's saving act is His justifying act. He saved us by giving us the new birth experience, by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us. Since the saving is the justifying, He justifies us by the new birth experience, by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us. Justification is not only a legal declaration that Christ's righteousness is counted for us; it is also the transforming new birth experience that we enjoy when the Holy Spirit brings the presence of Christ to our hearts. Thus Paul repeated Jesus' message to Nicodemus, using different imagery, but identifying his imagery with that used by Jesus.
Paul spelled out the same message for the Galatian Christians. We are justified only by faith (grace), not by works (Gal. 2:16). When we were justified we "died to the law" so that we "might live to God." We were "crucified with Christ" (verse 19). Now Christ lives in us (verse 20). This experience of justification comes through God's gift of grace, not through our attempts to obey the law (verse 21).
We began our new walk with Christ when we were justified, when the Holy Spirit came into our hearts (Gal. 3:3-5). This is the same experience that God gave Abraham (verses 6-9). And God has given Abraham's experience to us "so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (verse 14). For Paul, justification is what Jesus meant by the new birth.
Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century Reformer, identified justification as both Christ's righteousness counted for us in a legal sense and His righteousness bestowed upon us by the transforming gift of the Holy Spirit. He wrote: "Then what does justify? Hearing the voice of the bridegroom, hearing the proclamation of faith -- when this is heard, it justifies. Why? Because it brings the Holy Spirit who justifies."(11) (For further historical references, see endnote 8.)
THE CROSS MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR CHRIST TO GIVE US THE POWER TO OBEY HIS LAW.
Jesus did not teach that when you are given present salvation by the new birth experience, you can live like the devil and sin to your hearts content. He did not say that once you have legal salvation standing with God your spiritual state becomes irrelevant to your salvation. Quite the contrary, Jesus taught Nicodemus, "But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:21). Once we are born again, our deeds, our works, our behaviors are "done in God." In other words, the Spirit in our hearts provides the power for works that are acceptable in the sight of God.
Paul taught the same truth. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), not by anything we do (verse 9). But when we are saved by grace, we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" (verse 10; italics supplied).
Justification by faith (grace) does not release us from the requirement that we obey God's law; justification is the power to obey His law. The Spirit within is Christ within is righteousness within. There is no greater power available than the power of the Holy Spirit freely given to the person who believes in Jesus Christ. "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom. 3:31). Christ died "so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4). Christ's death does not make it possible for us to save ourselves by law keeping. His death makes salvation by grace available to every human being willing to receive the gift (Rom. 5:17). And this gift results in lives delivered from the bondage of evil, lives in harmony with the principles of God's holy law.
Jesus taught Nicodemus five timeless principles of salvation that were reiterated by Paul. These principles are just as essential for us as they were for first-century Christians: (1) the cross made our salvation possible; (2) because of the cross, our sins can be forgiven; (3) because of the cross, Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, put to our account and made part of our lives; (4) because of the cross, Christ's righteousness is bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit; (5) because of the cross, we can have the power of Christ to enable us to overcome sin and keep God's law.
Have you surrendered your heart to Christ? Have you allowed Him to transform your life through the power of the Holy Spirit? Have you claimed His righteousness as yours? Through the grace He willingly gives, are you enjoying a life of spiritual victory? By entering into the experience that Jesus outlined for Nicodemus, you can give a positive answer to each one of these questions.
1. In this article, unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotes will be taken from the New Revised Standard Version.
2. The translation is mine. The Greek verb "to justify" (dikaioo) is used twice in the passage as an explanation of forgiveness (aphesis).
3. Translation mine. The Greek participle dikaiounta is identified with logizetai . . . eis dikaiosunen. The One who justifies is the One who counts, reckons, or imputes faith for righteousness. Hence, justification is the imputation of righteousness.
4. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 1957 ed., s.v. "aphesis."
5. Arndt and Gingrich define dikaioo, the verb "to justify" as follows: "show justice, do justice . . . to someone. . . . justify, vindicate, treat as just. . . . be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become dikaios, . . . make free or pure . . . be set free, made pure."
6. One prominent connotation of chashav and logizomai in the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament is "to impute," "count," "reckon to," "consider as belonging to," "regard as," "treat as," "credit to." The instances in which these verbs have these closely related meanings may be divided into six categories:
(i) Things are sometimes reckoned as belonging to a specific class: Lev. 25:31; Num. 18:27, 30; Job 41:27, 29, 32.
(ii) The verb "to impute" is sometimes used in the sense of regarding (considering, counting) a person to be something which he is not. In every instance in which the verb is so used in the Old Testament human error is involved: Gen. 31:15; 38:15; 1 Sam. 1:13; Job 13:24; 19:11.
(iii) The verb "to impute" in some instances refers to people being regarded as exactly what they are: Neh. 13:13; Num 23:9; Deut. 2:11, 20; Job 18:3; Ps. 106:30, 31; 88:4; Isa. 29:17; 32:15; 40:15, 17.
(iv) In two cases the verb "to impute" is used to refer to non-imputation of an animal sacrifice to one who offered in a manner contrary to the will of God: Lev. 7:18; 17:4.
(v) The non-imputation of iniquity was forgiveness of sin: 2 Sam. 19:19-23; Ps. 32:1, 2.
(vi) To verb "to impute" on occasions is used in the Old Testament to designate a gift or the specification of actual ownership: Num. 18:27, 30; Joshua 13:3; 2 Sam. 4:2.
What is the specific relevance of these six points for a discussion of Genesis 15:6? (1) Abraham was categorized (counted) as righteous; (2) Abraham was not counted to be something that he was not; (3) the reckoning of righteousness to Abraham was a factual statement that God's righteousness had taken possession of Abraham's life; (4) iniquity was not imputed to Abraham; (5) the imputation of righteousness to Abraham was non- imputation of sin; (6) the imputation of righteousness to Abraham was the genuine bestowal of the righteousness of God upon him.
7. The Greek word anothen means both "from above" and "again" or "anew."
8. This was not the view of Luther and Calvin. They saw justification as involving two inseparable aspects: (1) The legal or forensic aspect is God's forgiveness of believers' sins and His crediting Christ's righteousness to their account. (2) the experiential aspect is Christ's gift of His righteousness to believers by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ within is the Spirit within is righteousness within. See Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann, 55 vols. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), vol. 22, p. 275; vol. 25. pp. 19, 30, 104; vol. 26, pp. 208, 130, 132, 137, 167, 168; vol. 34, pp. 152, 153, 177, 178; See Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), pp. 226, 234, 235; Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: a History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: University Press, 1986), vol. 2, pp. 14, 126. See also John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1559, 1962), III.XI. 2, 3, 10. In his later works, Melanchthon is credited with promoting legal-only justification, the view that was accepted by the Formula of Concord (1577). After 1577, orthodox Lutheranism consistently followed the Formula of Concord by adhering to the concept of legal-only justification. See McGrath, vol. 2, pp. 23-26, 29, 32, 44, 45. But this was not the understanding of the magisterial Reformers.
9. My translation. The Greek reads: ho gar apothanon dedikaiotai apo tes hamartias. Dedikaiotai is the 3rd person, sing, perfect, indicative, passive of the verb dikaioo, the verb "to justify. The perfect form used in the text means "has been justified." The sentence translates, "He who died (has died), has been justified from sin."
10. My translation. This is one sentence in the Greek text. In verse 5 esosen corresponds todikaiothentes in verse 7. Hence, salvation is identified with justification. The result of the saving (the justifying) is that we are "heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
11. Luther's Works, 55 vols. (St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia, 1963), vol. 26, p. 208.
© Copyright 1997 by Erwin R. Gane, All Rights Reserved. This document may be freely distributed via the following means - Email (including listservers), Usenet, and WorldWideWeb. It may not be reproduced for profit including, but not limited to, CD ROMs, books, and/or other commercial outlets without prior written consent from the author.