Skip to main content

Theology in Action: Imputation

As I mentioned in this post, I wanted to give an example of what it looks like for theology to be lived out. I selected imputation for two reasons, one convenient in that I came across it in my study of Philemon, and the other intentional in that I wanted to pick a doctrine that seems esoteric.

First let's begin by explaining imputation. The main idea of the doctrine of imputation claims that an exchange took place between us and Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he bore the wrath of God that we deserve so that if we have faith in him we no longer have to face God's wrath. Here's where imputation comes in: our sinfulness was credited to Jesus as if he had sinned ('God made him who had no sin to be sin for us' - 2 Cor. 5:21a TNIV). Our sin was counted as if it was Jesus sin which, since Jesus paid the penalty for our sins means that our sins are wiped away. The imputation part of this, again, is our sins being credited to Jesus. This is not enough for us to be accepted before God, though. All we are at this point is morally neutral, thus another imputation must take place. Jesus moral righteousness is credited to our accounts, and now we see all of 2 Cor. 5:21, 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (TNIV). Through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, his righteousness is counted as our righteousness, thus when God looks at us he sees the perfect record of his Son. In summary, the doctrine of imputation teaches that our sinfulness was credited to Jesus and his righteousness was credited to us, which allows us to be reconciled to God.

What does that look like? I would argue that Philemon 17-19 gives us a picture of how Paul lived out imputation: "17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self." (TNIV).

Paul's goal was to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. There were hurdles that had to be overcome before this could happen. Onesimus had fled Philemon and thus wronged him by being absent for at least a few months and thereby incurring the cost of lost labor (and perhaps the hire or purchase of additional slaves). It's possible too that Onesimus had stolen from Philemon to finance his journey to Rome. Thus Onesimus has a substantial debt that he owes Philemon. This is an obstacle to their reconciliation. That does not stop Paul, though. In verses 18 and 19 we see Paul, in a legally binding manner, absorb the debt that Onesimus owes Paul. He is willing, like Christ, to pay the penalty on behalf of another. Don't forget that Paul was in prison at the time, so if Philemon asked Paul for payment, it would be very difficult and very costly to pay.

On the flip side, Paul knows that he has a strong relationship with Philemon. He knows that Philemon loves him and would be overjoyed to see Paul (notice in vs. 22 Paul asks Philemon to prepare a guest room for him). Paul had been of great benefit to Philemon and was his father in the faith. What Paul does in verse 17 is ask that Philemon see Onesimus as he would Paul. Thus Paul's positive record is being imputed to Onesimus.

One big thing that the doctrine of imputation teaches us is of the costliness of Christ's sacrifice for us to reconcile us to God. We too, like Paul, are ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-20). Also, like Paul, our ministry of reconciliation is not solely about reconciling others to God (though this is primary). We are to work for the reconciliation of one to another even if it's at great cost to ourselves, especially when division exists between fellow believers. We must be willing to absorb penalty and pain and use our positive influence to repair damaged relationships.


Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nat…

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that …