I just wanted to share a couple of paragraphs from Richard P. Belcher Jr.’s essay, “The King, the Law, and Righteousness in the Psalms” from The Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, along with my own thoughts:
“The relationship of the king to the torah is important. The king meditates on the torah and desires to keep the torah. The king declares that his life is a reflection of the righteousness of the torah in that he is blameless. Thus the king is able to ask God to judge him according to his righteousness because his life is a reflection of the righteousness of the torah.” (p168)
An unthinking cursory reader of Psalms 7, 18, and 26 might not recognize the apparent problem with these Psalms in that the author (the king) considers himself to be righteous in the sight of the law. But how does this square with Psalm 143:2, in which the Psalmist specifically asks God not to enter into judgment with him, because “in Your sight no one living is righteous?” What are the options for interpreting these Psalms? As I see it, there are three.
The first option is that the human Psalmist is speaking in a general manner, about how he has lived a mostly upstanding life, making his best effort to uphold God’s law. Thus he is asking God to judge him based on his history of having more “rights” than “wrongs” in his life. Yet this option cannot be true, for in Isaiah 64:6, we see that even our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. Even our best works of following the law cannot earn us entrance into heaven.
The second option is that the Psalmist is speaking in light of his sanctification by God. Through the power of God’s work, the righteousness of Christ is infused into the believer, and he is made into a righteous being. Through this righteousness worked in the believer, God can judge the Psalmist as holy enough to earn eternal life. Many who profess belief in Christ hold this view. Yet is this how God judges men to be righteous? By infusing them with righteousness, by recreating them into a righteous being worthy of heaven? The answer from Scripture is a resounding “NO.” No works of righteousness, even those wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, are enough to gain us entry into heaven. Romans 4 explains how Abraham was considered righteous before God, not by any work of obedience (and Abraham was certainly obedient many times), but by faith in the promise of God!
So how are we to interpret the words of the Psalmist who claims that he is righteous enough to stand before the judgment of God Almighty? This brings us to Option #3, which Belcher explains:
“All the statements in the psalms related to the benefit of the law would have been true of Jesus’ sinless human life. He would have delighted in the law and kept his way pure according to its precepts. In this way he not only fulfils the role of the king in relationship to the law, but he also fulfils the original role of mankind in creation as the one who rules over God’s creation in obedience to the word of God.” (p.168)
Thus, the pertinent portions of Psalms 7, 18, and 26 can be understood as being from the point of view of Christ. Only Christ could point to His own righteousness for judgment in God’s sight; no other man ever could. While the Psalms had a human author (in this case, David), they are also God-breathed.
Thus Christ fulfilled the law in every way. As the perfect sacrifice he fulfils the sacrificial system and bears on the cross the punishment for sin (the passive obedience of Christ). But he also perfectly keeps the requirements of the law so that he is allowed into the presence of God on the basis of his own righteousness (the active obedience of Christ). His righteousness is imputed through faith alone, and apart from his righteousness all are condemned. The statement of Machen as he neared death is so pertinent: ‘I am so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.'” (p.169)
Thanks for posting this… I appreciate it.
Do you think Machen would have been any less accurate if he said, “I am so thankful for [the] passive obedience of Christ. No hope without it”? Or: “I am so thankful for [the] humanity of Christ. No hope without it”?
The reason I ask is that the Christ’s active obedience is one part of the whole that makes up our salvation. I’m not convinced that it is any more important that the other two I mentioned. Thoughts?
I think either of those statements would have been equally accurate. While I’m not sure of Machen’s reason for singling out Christ’s Active Obedience, Belcher’s is because he’s writing about how the law must be fulfilled in order to receive the reward of eternal life. There are those, as I’m sure you already know, who would say that only Christ’s Passive Obedience is imputed to us, canceling out our sin, so that our own good works stand alone and God is able to grant us eternal life because of them. But even our righteous works are like filthy rags; it’s Christ’s Active Obedience which fulfills the requirements for eternal life.
Christ’s Passive Obedience works the same way; otherwise, our sin and guilt would remain on us. Without Christ’s humanity, He could not have fulfilled the terms of the Covenant as our federal head.
Thanks for commenting!
I’ve devoted much of my time to correcting a very widespread misunderstanding about the term “impute.” Many are extremely shocked to hear this, but the Bible never uses the term “impute” in reference to imputing our sins to Christ or imputing Adam’s guilt to man, or even Christ’s Righteousness to us.
In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:
QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”
The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.
The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.
Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.
To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
This cannot be right.
So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.
Hi Nick. I have some issues with your reasoning.
First, your quote was not the definition of ‘logizomai;’ it was a comment on the degree of certainty/speculation involved in the useage of the word (although it was located under the heading “Definition” on the webpage). I’ll quote the full definition, adding my own emphasis to certain pertinent parts:
Note that the lexicon lists one definition of the Greek word ‘logizomai’ as “to impute.” Since this is the word you are most concerned with understanding, we’ll focus on it. Now, this by itself doesn’t define ‘logizomai;’ it merely translates it. To understand what “impute” means, one must turn to an English dictionary.
Since my resources are limited at my present location, I’ll quote Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impute) as follows:
I think we can both agree that God never lies or acts unjustly, so we can leave out #1. Definition #2 is synonymous with “attribute,” which Merriam-Webster defines thusly:
Now that ‘logizomai’ has been translated as “impute” and “impute” has been defined above, I can address the lexicon’s comment,
and your comment:
If God thinks something, it is so. When God reckons His children to be righteous, it is no mere supposition. He is not pondering to Himself, “Hmm, I guess I’ll consider them righteous, maybe.” It is a decisive declaration that has eternal consequences. Let us not take the comment of a Lexicon farther than its authors’ intent.
Your quotations from Romans, and your comments such as “in… 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does,” presuppose that the Protestant believes that this is God’s attitude concerning imputed righteousness as well. God is not a liar, and no Christians calls Him such. When He declares the unrighteous to be righteous, He does so on the basis of their Covenant Head, Christ, and His perfect righteousness. As the dictionary definitions describe, Christ’s actions are attributed to us, according to God’s grace. You are engaging in wordplay and creating straw men.
‘Logizomai’ means impute. By itself, the word does not tell us why something is imputed, to whom it is imputed, or how it is imputed. No Christian automatically assumes that ‘logizomai’ contains an assumed reference to the crediting of an alien righteousness or unrighteousness. I reckon you to be a Romanist because of your website URL; I don’t suppose this to be an alien status. You’ve created another straw man.
The “it” that was accounted to Abraham in Romans 4:22 is found in 4:13, “the righteousness of faith,” that is, the righteousness which is by faith. This is Christ’s righteousness, imputed to His elect through belief in the gospel. Faith itself, the act of believing, is not the righteousness by which we earn eternal life.
Suppose you are correct, that the act of believing is itself considered a righteous act. Surely you do not believe that one righteous act, apart from all other works, amidst an ocean of sinful depravity in a man, can be enough to save a man? But this is what the Apostle Paul must say in Romans 3:28, if one adopts your view of faith as a righteous act in and of itself.
Read Romans 5:12-20. Adam’s sin was imputed to all. And Christ’s act is imputed to His children. I’ll quote vv.18-19:
It is not the faith of many men that save them. It is the One Man’s obedience that becomes ours through belief in Him.
Thanks for your response. I think we should approach with caution when a Biblical term/concept is being defined by a secular (non-Biblical) dictionary. Using a secular dictionary can be helpful at times, but still, caution must be taken since a secular dictionary is not thinking in Biblical categories. The same caution should be taken when deciding how to render logizomai, since the term can be rendered “reckon,” “impute,” “credited,” “counted,” etc, while holding the same general meaning.
That said, I agree that the general meaning is to “to regard as a characteristic of a person or thing,” as you noted. The term has nothing to do with transferring, only making a mental judgment about something.
I might be misreading you, but you seem to be making contradictory remarks, for example these four successive sentences:
“As the dictionary definitions describe, Christ’s actions are attributed to us, according to God’s grace. You are engaging in wordplay and creating straw men.
‘Logizomai’ means impute. By itself, the word does not tell us why something is imputed, to whom it is imputed, or how it is imputed. No Christian automatically assumes that ‘logizomai’ contains an assumed reference to the crediting of an alien righteousness or unrighteousness.”
If your third sentence is correct – “No Christian assumes logisomai contains an assumed reference to credigin alien righteousness” – then the question is: where does that claim come from? You’re saying that as per the definition, Christ’s righteousness is attributed to us (that is, credited as our own), yet you say the term doesn’t tell us why/whom/how it’s imputed nor that there is an assumption about alien righteousness.
You then said:
“The “it” that was accounted to Abraham in Romans 4:22 is found in 4:13, “the righteousness of faith,” that is, the righteousness which is by faith. This is Christ’s righteousness”
The “it” as it relates to 4:5 is “faith” that is “reckoned as righteousness” – and for your thesis to make sense you must interpret this as something along the lines of “faith transfers righteousness,” which is not a valid definition of logizomai. Also, where are you getting the idea this is “Christ’s Righteousness” when you said there is no assumptions of how logizomai is being used?
You asked me:
“Suppose you are correct, that the act of believing is itself considered a righteous act. Surely you do not believe that one righteous act, apart from all other works, amidst an ocean of sinful depravity in a man, can be enough to save a man?”
I don’t believe that one righteous act necessarily is enough to save a man – that to me is a non-sequitor from the claim “faith was credited as a righteous act.”
The Bible is written in ordinary language, meant to be understood by the common man. If one is trying to ascertain the meaning of an English word, be it “dog” or “impute,” any decent English dictionary will suffice. Best not to read imagined meaning into words.
I apologize for my lack of clarity when I said “As the dictionary definitions describe, Christ’s actions are attributed to us, according to God’s grace.” By that sentence, I meant to highlight the word “attributed,” as per the dictionary, which basically equates “impute” with “attribute.” I didn’t mean to imply that the dictionary definition of the single word contained any inherent reference to Christ’s work. Hopefully that makes more sense now.
Romans 4:5 is more properly translated “his faith is accounted for righteousness,” rather than “reckoned as righteousness. The individual’s inherent righteousness is obviously not in view in this verse, as it talks about believing in “Him who justifies the ungodly.”
Verse 24 says “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead…” In this verse, it is not belief that will be imputed to those who believe; if so, this verse is pretty pointless. Rather it is righteousness. What righteousness; ours? No,
Romans 10:3 speaks of the Jews: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
Christ is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:16; I Corinthians 1:30). The righteousness of Abraham was not an inherent personal righteousness, but it was imputed to him. The passages in Romans make that clear. The Jew’s problem was that they wanted God to consider them righteousness because of something in them, rather than seeking God’s righteousness which is received only through belief in Him.