What is the Gospel?


Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


What are we saying when we gather to worship on Easter Sunday? We are actually saying something radical, are we not? We’re saying that an itinerant rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago in a backwater town in the Middle East is actually God. But we’re saying more than that, aren’t we?

We’re not only saying that we believe Jesus was God, but that His life and death and resurrection proved this. We’re saying that Jesus’ predictions of His future death and resurrection tell us that He was no ordinary human, but that he was God in the flesh. But we’re saying more than that, aren’t we?

We are not only upholding the apologetic of the Resurrection, we’re not only affirming that the historic Jesus did indeed rise again and was seen by 500 witnesses. We are also saying that “if” this is true, then it changes everything about us, about the world, and about what we think we know about God.

We’re saying Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, the hope of Israel, the Promised One who will not only satisfy God’s just punishment of sin against humans. We’re saying that the fallen corrupted world, a world of war and disease and famine and strife and murder and corruption, will one day be restored. We’re saying that the utopia we long for, the blessed, beautiful world that we all want to see happen, but seem powerless to effect–we’re saying that Jesus’ resurrection signals that this kingdom will one day happen. That’s what we’re saying.

But we’re saying even more. On Easter, we’re saying that “if” this is true, if Jesus was God, did suffer the death for sin we should have suffered, if He indeed rose again, than death is defeated, the invisible enemy was crushed, and restoration is on the way. Easter is a kind of spring season, it reveals the first colorful shoots and seedlings that point to a new a brighter day. It gives us hope that the world’s long winter freeze has been lifted. Instinctively, we all long for a better world, we all want things to change, all want personal renewal and corporate renewal. But we all know that mankind, at his best, cannot bring this to pass. The 20th century marked the century of the most human progress. And yet, it was the century that arguably saw the most blood shed. So, by Easter, that’s what we are saying.

But we’re saying so much more. Easter also says that Creation itself, the world, the planet, the universe, will also one day be restored. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ not only defeated the death brought to mankind by sin, but it defeated the curse placed by sin on creation, a planet and universe that now rumbles with trouble, unleashing devastating natural disasters. Easter says that there is renewal around the corner. But Easter says even more than this.

What we are saying Easter says is that there is a new Kingdom and a new King coming. We’re saying this new King is calling citizens of a new Kingdom, enlisting them in the immediate task of creating an alternate community, the Church, who is to be a window, a glimpse into the final Kingdom. These kingdom people, empowered by the king, live by a different set of values. The poor, the peacemakers, the virtuous, the humble, the forgiving, the courageous. But we’re saying more than this.

Easter says that God not only came in Christ to renew the earth, rescue humanity, and reverse sin’s curse, but He came to offer personal salvation and access to God. By His life and death and resurrection, Jesus grants those who believe personal intimacy with God. Easter says that this access, citizenship in the new Kingdom, is not given because of merit or birth but by personal regeneration. Consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, the most religious man in Israel (John 3). Jesus said that this eminently religious and presumptively qualified man that despite his religious devotion and spiritual heritage, he too needed spiritual rebirth. He too needed a new heart, a new allegiance, a new life. By putting his faith in Christ, Nicodemus and all who believe, become citizens of this new Kingdom.

All of this is what Easter is saying. It is declaring the Bible’s beautiful narrative: Life was once good and beautiful, how we all think it should be. It tells us that man was created uniquely to image God. It tells us what happened to this beautiful world and to man himself. -An enemy seduced humankind into rejecting the Creator. It tells us the consequences of sin: death, destruction, evil–every imaginable horror. It tells us, though, that God already had a plan to restore His creation and His people, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Easter tells us that the centuries-long desire for rescue–the arc of the Old Testament–was fulfilled in Jesus. It tells us that because of Easter, there is a better world coming.

Easter is an invitation into this new world through faith in the King who died, was buried, and rose again.

This, my friends, and not any other reason, is why we celebrate Easter. If this is true, it truly changes everything.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


The topic of adoption is very personal for me. As the father of an adopted daughter, I am increasingly aware of what it means to be adopted and the change that adoption brings into the life of an individual. At its core, adoption is grace bestowed upon another for the purpose of bringing one into a new family, to include all of the rights and privileges associated with taking on the new name of that new adopted family. Ultimately, as noted by John Piper, “The Gospel is not a picture of adoption. Adoption is a picture of the Gospel.” As part of the ongoing series on the Gospel, in this post we will analyze the doctrine of adoption, demonstrating why this doctrine is so vital to understand.

Let’s begin with a definition of adoption. Chapter XII of the Westminster Confession of Faith describes adoption in this manner:

“I. All those that are justified, God vouchsafes, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have His name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a Father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.”[1]

The first element that must be noted concerning adoption is spiritual adoption is an act of God. The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 1:3-5 declares:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

In this passage, Paul is clearing noting that our status as adopted sons is rooted in a decision made by God from before the foundation of the world, something known as the doctrine of predestination. This means there is nothing we can do or have done to become sons of God or to be members of the household of faith. What is interesting in Paul’s statement in Ephesians 1:3-5 is the repeated use of the word blessed, which focuses the praise for our status as adopted, predestined sons of God back to the source, namely God. Not only was it God’s will that He chose us from before the foundation of the world, it is also important to notice another set of notable phrases, specifically “in Him” and “in Christ”. The blessing is rooted in our status as being in Christ which is itself rooted in God. This all took place for the explicit purpose of being found holy and blameless before God. Right off the bat we have a sense that the Gospel presented through doctrine of adoption is found to be by God, in God, and for God through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

A second element regarding adoption addressed in the Westminster Confession is that of the liberties and privileges we have as children of God. John 1:12-13 speaks to this point stating, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Once again we find that any rights or privileges we have are provided to us by God. This also begs the question as to what these rights and privileges are that have been granted to us by God and by His will alone. Romans 8:17 describes believers as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Furthermore, Romans 8:23 reveals, “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” What Paul is telling us in these various passages is that our status as adopted sons of God provides a “now and not yet” set of rights and privileges. The now aspect is found in the reality that we are justified through Christ and are vouchsafed or given something in a gracious manner. This gracious gift expresses the entire idea of God’s grace manifested towards us through the cross which is after all the very heart of the gospel message. Moreover, that justification and subsequent status change through adoption is the now aspect of what Paul speaks of in Romans 8. The not yet rights and privileges is what J. I. Packer describes as the “blessing of resurrection day…the surpassing grandeur of what awaits us in the good plan of God.”[2] This promise of eternal life also lies firmly at the heart of the message of the gospel message, most notably the transference from death to life through the power of the cross of Christ.

The third element of adoption outlined in the Westminster Confession is the notation of “having His name put upon them” in order to “receive the spirit of adoption”. Paul states in Galatians 4:6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” The sonship that results from being adopted by God is that of a status change. We are delivered from slavery to sin and bondage with the requirement to fulfill all the requirements of God’s law in order to be justified. Furthermore, we are gracious given freedom through the perfect fulfillment of God’s law on our behalf by Christ. Our adoption papers if you will were signed by the blood of Christ.

Additionally, as noted by Iain Campbell, “we are no longer strangers and aliens to the people of God but members of the household of God.”[3] When Paul declares that through adoption we are sons and thus can cry out “Abba, Father”, what he is referring to is yet again a change of familial status. As a slave to sin, we served a master other than God. Sin lorded itself over us. Through the cross, we no longer are slaves to sin; conversely, we become children of God. We can then rightly call out “Abba, Father” because we are in the family of God. For example, when my wife and I adopted our daughter, following the completion of the process her last name changed to ours. In essence, our family name was put upon her when she received the gift of adoption. The same idea is rooted in the doctrine of adoption. When God, before the foundation of the world, adopted us as His sons into His family, His name was put upon us. We are now His children.

This concept is further played out by what should happen in the life of the one who is adopted. As a father, I have the expectation of my child to honor me as a parent and it is expected that my child, keeping in mind her sinful nature, should desire to honor me as the parent. This passion for holiness should be the hallmark of every believer as a result of our understanding of this gracious gift of grace in recognition of the message of the gospel. Gary Senna writes on this sonship/name aspect of the doctrine of adoption noting “it is the intended goal of every adoption, either spiritual or natural, for the adopted individual to begin reflecting the values, dreams, and hopes of their adoptive family. Spiritually, this truth is reflected in the transformation of the individual as they become more like Christ in attitude, compassion, lifestyle, and aspirations.”[4] Since the Gospel is the movement of filthy sinners from the kingdom of darkness to a place of transformation as sons of God in the Kingdom of God through the power of the cross, it should be the response of every believer to desire to reflect holiness in their lives to the glory of God. A true response to the Gospel will result in a transformed life, one that understands what it means to reflect their Father in every aspect of their life.

The final element of the doctrine of adoption described in the Westminster Confession is that of assurance of salvation, the surety of our status as sons of God and members of the household of faith. J. I. Packer again provides salient insight into this issue, noting two important issues we all must remember as adopted children of the family of God:

“First, the family relationship must be an abiding one, lasting forever. Perfect parents do not cast off their children. Christians may act the prodigal, but God will not cease to act the prodigal’s father. Second, God will go out of His way to make His children feel His love for them, and know their privilege and security as members of His family. Adopted children need assurance that they belong, and a perfect parent will not withhold it.” [5]

In natural adoption language, this is called providing a child a forever family. The same is true with our status as children of God. God predestined us before the foundation of the world to be part of His forever family. Assurance does not provide a reason to believe that one can act however they want since after all, they are “in the club”. As previously noted, the adopted child of God recognizes the need to reflect the Father in their lives at every opportunity. There is the inherent desire to bring glory to the Father because of His marvelous grace extended towards us.

The great Puritan author Thomas Watson once wrote:

“Extol and magnify God’s mercy, who has adopted you into his family; who, of slaves, has made you sons; of heirs of hell, heirs of the promise. Adoption is a free gift. He gave them power, or dignity, to become the sons of God. As a thread of silver runs through a whole piece of work, so free grace runs through the whole privilege of adoption. Adoption is greater mercy than Adam had in paradise; he was a son by creation, but here is a further sonship by adoption. To make us thankful, consider, in civil adoption there is some worth and excellence in the person to be adopted; but there was no worth in us, neither beauty, nor parentage, nor virtue; nothing in us to move God to bestow the prerogative of sonship upon us. We have enough in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move him to adopt us, therefore exalt free grace; begin the work of angels here; bless him with your praises who has blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.” [6]

As we contemplate this precious gift called the Gospel, let us also ponder this wonderful gift of adoption. We deserved death yet God chose to rescue us and to receive us as His children. Let it also sink in what Watson stated, namely “in civil adoption there is some worth and excellence in the person to be adopted; but there was no worth in us, neither beauty, nor parentage, nor virtue; nothing in us to move God to bestow the prerogative of sonship upon us”. Paul writes in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the message of the Gospel and adoption is a small but beautiful picture of that glorious Gospel message.

Think about it!

[1] http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/
[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1973), 217.
[3] http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/adoption-gods-family
[4] Garry Senna, “The Doctrine of Adoptoin” (master’s thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 2006), 60.
[5] Packer, 225.
[6] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1957), 240.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


I am so very thankful for the recent resurgence among the “Young, Restless, and Reformed”—as Collin Hanson with the Gospel Coalition would call it—who preach the gospel and it’s core doctrine of justification by faith alone week by week.  Sadly, the American church often misses this core doctrine..

Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the head and cornerstone” and explained that “without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour?”[1]  He writes in his commentary on the book of Romans that “all men are sinners and in need of [God’s] righteousness.”[2]  It was not simply a general “salvation,” but God’s righteousness that provided the foundation for salvation.  Calvin wrote, “Wherever the knowledge of [justification] is taken away…the hope of salvation is utterly overthrown.”[3]

Indeed, sola fide was the battle cry of the Reformation and remains the bond between the various branches and denominations of the Protestant church.  Certainly this doctrine is not just central to the Christian life or the hope of the church; it should also central to teaching and preaching.

So what do we mean when we say “justification by faith alone?”  What is the historical, Reformed, and biblical understanding?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism states: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us a righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”[4]

Justification is the declaration of “not guilty” or “righteous” of a believer in Christ based on the imputation of the believer’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the believer.  This is called double imputation and is the foundation of God’s pardoning and declarative act.

Justification in Paul’s letters, expounded by the Continental Reformers and Post-Reformation Puritans, is chiefly a forensic term.[5]  That is, it is understood in the context of law, guilt, grace, and pardon.  The current attack on the doctrine is over this basic belief and insists that justification has more to do with a process of staying in the covenant community of God’s people than with God’s one-time declarative act.[6]

The “great exchange” of the gospel is our sin imputed (or credited) to Christ and his righteousness to us.  Richard Gaffin notes, “Justification in Paul is essentially, primarily soteriological.  It is a ‘transfer’ term describing what takes place in an individual’s transition from wrath to grace.”[7]  He goes on to build the relationship between our union with Christ by faith and the doctrine of justification: “In union with Christ, his righteousness is the ground of my being justified.  That is, in my justification his righteousness becomes my righteousness.  This…is to be at the notion of imputation.  His righteousness is reckoned as mine.”[8]

As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  It is this imputed alien righteousness that is missing in our current, post-modern preaching and teaching.  The present challenge to justification “obscures half of Christ’s glory in the work of justification…it denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”[9]

Paul makes the case in Romans 4 that the righteousness “credited” to our account is received by faith and not “works of the law.”  He makes the same argument in Philippians 3:9, where he writes that righteousness comes “through faith in Christ.”  Moreover, it is this ideology and belief that Jesus attacks throughout the gospels, predominately recognized among the Pharisees and “teachers of the law.”

If we don’t preach justification, we don’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To be sure, justification is the core of the gospel, the “article on which the church stands for falls,”[10] and the only hope for guilty sinners.  It is the means by which we lay down our attempts to justify ourselves and trust in the sufficiency of Christ.

I am grateful for the recent conscientious reaffirmation of the doctrine of justification.  Let us thank God for counting us “righteous” in his sight based on the merits of his Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

[1] Martin Luther, quoted in John Piper, Brothers, We are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 17.

[2] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1976), 78.

[3] John Calvin, quoted in Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper, 17.

[4] Q. 33.

[5] R. C. Sproul, Justified by Faith Alone (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 12.

[6] This is one of the over-arching premises of the NPP.

[7] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006), 45.

[8] Ibid., 51-52.

[9] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 35.

[10] Martin Luther, XV Psalmos graduum 1532-33; WA 40/III.352.3.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


Jesus Expiate That

In our home in Tulsa we had an oubliette in the garage. Oubliette is French for “a place of forgetting”. Whenever something broke, I would stick it in that corner and leave it. Sometimes this would be for weeks, months, or even a year.

I loved that place. I could just shove something into that corner and forget about it. That is until the occasion when I miraculously had margin, and courage, to deal with the broken object. However, more often than not, someone, perhaps my beautiful bride, would express urgency about the item.

I would then venture into that corner of the garage and deal with the brokenness. More often than not, there was only one solution. I would look at that broken object. Knock it around a few times with a hammer. Crack it open. Tinker with it beyond repair. Then I would gather all the parts and bear them away to the trashcan to be removed permanently from the premises.

This, friends, is a picture of expiation. It’s a broken picture, held together by duct-tape, wire hangers, and whatever other contraptions I typically fabricate to poorly fix stuff. But that’s just the point.

I’m a feeble human. My illustrations hold up about as well as my repairs. I am in need of a master wordsmith to demonstrate the complex task that God accomplished in removing sin. I need a master craftsman to go about the repair necessary. Not just to fix my broken illustration or broken objects in the garage, but to fix everything: me, my family, society, and all God’s creation. Through Christ’s suffering on the cross, not just my brokenness is handled, but all the world’s brokenness is handled.

What is Expiation?

One component of this repair process is often grossly overlooked, but it is critical. It is called expiation. John Frame, in his excellent systematic theology, describes expiation. He says, “This means that Jesus bore our sins, took them on himself, and therefore did away with them” (Systematic Theology, 902).

There are a number of helpful verses that give insight to expiation. Isaiah 53:6 says, “And the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Verse 12 says, “Yet he bore the sins of many.” One of the most powerful and vivid depictions of expiation in the New Testament is the exclamation of John the Baptist at Jesus’s approach. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And possibly the most theologically robust statement on expiation appears in Hebrew 9:28. “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Suffering and Sacrifice

Expiation is indelibly connected to suffering and sacrifice. Christ is pictured as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 who bears sin away. John the Baptist welcomes Christ as a sacrificial lamb in John 1:29.

Remarkably, expiation began before the cross. If you look back to Isaiah 53 it says that the suffering servant is stricken and wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and with his stripes we are healed. In others words, from the beginning of Christ’s suffering at his trial — the shaming, the beatings, the scourging – expiation took place (Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3, 396). Expiation continued all the way until that final breath exhaled and Christ died.

Christ the Scapegoat

In the Old Testament expiation is pictured through hands transferring sin to animals. Leviticus 16 portrays one of the most pristine examples of this. Aaron, after atoning for the holy places, lays his hands on a living goat. The sins of Israel are passed to this goat. The goat is driven into the wilderness, bearing away the people’s sin. It is the scapegoat.

It is uncanny how Mark’s account of Christ’s baptism (Mark 1:4-13), chronologically falling near to John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:29, retains marked similarity to Leviticus 16. Recall, that John the Baptist is baptizing all the people for the forgiveness of sins in the Jordan River. Then comes Christ who is baptized, too. Immediately the Holy Spirit fell upon Christ like a dove, and He is immediately driven into the wilderness to resist temptation from Satan. Jesus is our scapegoat.

Expiation Is Not Propitiation

Many confuse expiation with propitiation. Others, not liking the propitiation concept, attempt to eliminate propitiation, spinning the Scripture to present only expiation. How is expiation distinguished from propitiation? Propitiation is what Jesus received from God (Romans 3:25-26). Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath against sin (Isaiah 51:17; Matt. 20:22). This is an essential aspect of the Christ event. Expiation is what Jesus received from man. Before Jesus experienced God’s wrath on the cross, Jesus bore sin from man. In other words, expiation precedes propitiation.

Expiation, a Once for All Event

Expiation — as Hebrews 9:28 above indicates — is a once for all event. Jesus handled our sin at the cross. Just as all forms of Old Testament sacrificial expiation look forward to the expiation at Christ’s cross, all forms of expiation practiced in the Church, such as prayer and the Lord’s Supper, look back to that one and same event where Christ bore sin away.

John Calvin makes this clear:

“And [it] was done but once, because the effectiveness and force of that one sacrifice accomplished by Christ are eternal, as he testified by his own voice when he said that it was done and fulfilled [John 19:30]; that is, whatever was necessary to recover the Father’s favor, to obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and salvation – all this was performed and completed by that unique sacrifice of his. And so perfect was it that no place was left afterward for any other sacrificial victim.” (Institutes, 4.18.13)

Christ’s righteousness makes expiation possible; Christ’s righteousness makes expiation beautiful. Referring to Christ’s attribute of righteousness, Herman Bavinck says, “In fact it is precisely the attribute of God that gave Christ as an expiation, so that God could forgive sins out of grace while preserving justice” (Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3, 369).

Expiation Changes How We Look at Self

So next time you come across brokenness, whether it is a discarded item in the corner of your garage or sin you’ve pushed away into the corner of your heart, remember that if you are Christ’s, then He paid for that sin. Jesus expiate that.

He suffered as a sacrifice that bore sin away, long before you were born and long before that sin sought refuge in your heart. You have been set free. You do not have to permit that sin to dwell in Christ’s home. There is a new resident in your heart; He is King of it all (Eph. 3:17). He will return. This time it will not be as a sacrifice but as a ruler. Before Jesus came to expiate our sin. Now Christ comes to execute His rule.

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Gospel Series: Imputation

Gospel Series: Imputation

Posted By on Apr 15, 2014

Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


The impu-what? I hope I didn’t lose you already!

You may be thinking, “Seriously? Is this a theology lesson?”

I recall in my undergrad studies, literally hating theology—I remember telling my wife how “dumb” it was. Little did I know I would receive a dual Masters, with the one of the degrees in theology. Why? Why such a drastic change from loathing it to loving it? It certainly was not the riveting textbooks, or the sessions of mono-toned lectures; no, it was the idea that everyone has a theology—they just don’t know it. Secondly, I learned some invaluable concepts about my faith in Christ, the Gospel, and the reasons why I believe what I believe. Theology literally opened up the Scriptures for me. And so, I pray that this is not some boring reading, but an engaging and Spirit-led challenge for you to grow in your faith. This post will not be exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. Its intention is to illuminate you with the doctrine of the imputation and it’s correlation with the Gospel.

So, since this will be somewhat short and precise, I only want to focus on two verses of Scripture: Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 these will be our springboard to launch us into what the imputation is and what it has to do with the Gospel.

What is the Imputation?

First and foremost, we begin by giving the word a more workable definition. We don’t walk around the twenty-first century talking about imputation—it sounds like someone needs their leg cut off. As well, sometimes a modern definition of a word can throw us off, which is exactly what you would find if you looked up the word imputation—as it can mean an accusation, reproach, or a charge against someone. That’s not what the Biblical doctrine means. When we talk about the imputation of Christ it is not a thing, but an event.

Just to make this easier, let’s give our word a new label, just for our understanding—let’s call this word, “counted.” Now, I don’t want you to be thinking of the word counting, in its present tense, as if it’s still happening, but at totaled sum or a calculated amount. For instance, if you needed a new TV, you find the one you like, pick it out, calculate the total amount due, and then go to the register. However, if you don’t have cash, you will use your credit card—right? Then, the amount for the TV is “counted,” on your card. But, you technically did not pay for the item—yet, but you’re driving home with it, putting it on the wall (an epic new flat screen!), and watching it—although, you have never made one payment—hence, it is “counted” as yours.

Now, let’s add to this and say that by some crazy stroke of luck, unbeknownst to you, your credit card company, feeling generous (as if), gives you a credit in the exact amount of the flat screen TV—the amount then that was once “counted” as yours, on your statement, is now nullified—meaning, you don’t own the debt, but you still get to watch the TV and possess it! Sounds great, right?

Well, this is the rudimentary concept behind the imputation. The doctrine states that Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and then put into our account, righteousness instead. Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains to the Roman Church, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Because of Adam, all of mankind has been born into sin, as Adam was the head of humanity. Rightly so, Jesus Christ, the only man to have ever defeated death, by being raised to life, conquered death and became the first-born of righteousness.  All who proclaim by faith that Jesus is Lord are saved by that faith and “counted” (there’s our word) as righteous. It is not that believers are righteous, but that they are “counted” as righteous, or declared righteous by God, through the work of Christ.

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

The penalty for the sin of man then was grievously put upon Christ (2 Cor 5:21; c.f. Col. 1:14; 2:14-15), while His righteousness was placed upon us, or put into our account. The analogy of the flat screen is applied to show that while we did not pay the penalty for our sin, it was paid by Christ; while we possess righteousness, it is not our own, but His.

What Does the Imputation Have to do with the Gospel?

Paul’s letter to the Roman Church carries a continuum of thought from the beginning. He begins chapter one by acknowledging that all of mankind knows about God, but suppresses the truth.[1] They either have a moral law written upon their hearts[2] or possess the written Law (ch.2). Then, Paul “levels the playing field” leaving no man righteous or justifiable of sin before God (ch.3); meaning, no amount of works can declare any man righteous before God. Paul then continues his argument founded upon on righteousness based on faith for both Jews and Gentiles—excluding works, providing examples of Abraham’s faith and righteousness (ch.4). Paul proceeds by examining justification by faith (a one-time action of Christ) and then accordingly, he finally addresses the imputation of sin by one man Adam, and the imputation of righteousness by one man, Jesus Christ (ch.5). Moreover, Paul shocks his Jewish audience in 5:20, by stating that the Law came into existence to increase transgression, to show that grace “super-abounded” hyperperisseuō.

Grace. This is not some word which merely means that we’re off the hook or that God loves us, or that we no longer endure judgment, but Paul’s illustration paints a picture that all of humanity—whether with the law in their heart (knowing it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie, etc.) or by the adherence of the written Commandments, no one is justified by their actions; no one has an excuse as to whether or not they’re a sinner—the law (in the heart or written) proves to all of us that we are in need of a Savior and not only for salvation, but the need to be washed from the sins, so that we can come into union with a holy God. This is where the Gospel and imputation intersect. Without the grace of the Gospel, which tells us that we all were sinners and that none of us came to faith in Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit.  Imputation teaches us that man’s works are not capable of bringing us into union with a holy God—we see that they must be united and simultaneous acts—both of God.

The fact that God grants grace and that He alone gives sinners the ability to be declared righteous is something which should place us in awe of a great and loving God. To think that not only is it God’s desire was to save sinful man, but also to declare him righteous by placing him in unity with His beloved Son, shows us an incredibly intelligent and amazing Creator. Imputation express that God wants a relationship with His creation, His people. That God would pull the sin from man’s account, nail it to the cross (Col.2:14) and place it in Christ’s account, then in the same fashion, take Christ’s righteousness and put it into the believer’s account (2 Cor 5:21) is far from this human mind to understand all of the complexities, but I do comprehend its worth and grace. Thanks be to God for His love, mercy, and relentless pursuit of sinners. Thank God for the Gospel. Thank God for imputation—so that I can have fellowship with Him.

[1] Romans 1:18

[2] Romans 2:14-15

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.


I couldn’t contain my emotion… joy bubbled up and over, each tear singing hallelujah for what God had done – my son Gavin was born! Even now the memory of his birth stirs me deeply. Perhaps you can relate. Each of us experiences a wide range of emotions as we move through our day-to-day lives. Typically, small experiences, whether positive or negative, illicit small emotional responses. Larger experiences naturally produce larger emotional reactions. It would appear then, that our emotional states are tied to and flow from the gravity of whatever situation we happen to find ourselves in. Whether it’s the release of a new album, a broken heart, a new birth, a job loss, or the big game… our emotions follow in kind.

We see this principle fleshed out in Psalm 95:1-5 as the writer calls the nation of Israel into the God-sized worship of God: 1) Sing to the Lord! 2) Shout joyfully! 3) Come with thanksgiving! 4) Sing psalms of praise!

It’s as if the Psalmist repeatedly implores both himself and the people, “The weight of our worship should rise to meet the weight of our present reality in God.” He reminds the people that God’s loyal-love has faithfully delivered them time and time again; God was, is and always will be the immovable ‘Rock of [their] salvation!’ God is worthy of exuberant praise, because He is their Great and Sovereign King of Majesty! Like Israel, God’s rule and reign faithfully and lovingly stands over-and-against every so-called god competing for the affection of our hearts. Indeed, our greatest enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil have each been overcome through the obedient death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our present reality in God is one of eternal victory in Christ.

The Apostle John fleshes out our multi-faceted relationship of holiness to and in Christ: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2-3). We are children of God now. Our positional relationship to and in Christ has set us apart for the enjoyment and glorification of God. However, ‘what we will be has not yet appeared.’ Today falls upon us fast and heavy. Each sunrise carries with it a host of competing desires, agendas, anxieties and relationships… each vying for center stage. Sadly, our divided affections often overflow into the distracted and dissatisfied worship of God – we love too much what deserves little, and love too little what deserves much. Oh, that the Spirit would cause the right-sizing of our affections, that they would truly be in proportion to our present reality in Jesus. Thanks be to God, our eternal and future reality in Christ (“we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”) serves as a dynamic source of hope to dig our heels in and fight for kingdom progress here and now.

We are now deep into the season of Lent. As we round the final turn and pick up speed toward Easter, the Lenten cry of the historical Church beckons us to ‘make room for the risen King!’ Our hearts are overcrowded and overwrought, again heaven cries – ‘make room in your heart for Him to whom your heart belongs!’

The season of Lent is about sweeping the floor of our souls. Daily rhythms of repentance and reflection upon Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross are not undertaken for morbidity’s sake. Jesus didn’t ask us to be depressed for forty days. Rather, as we habitually reflect on the nature of God’s love demonstrated toward us on the cross, the natural result will be the sweeping away of debris obstructing our heart’s view of Him. As our view of God grows in color, depth and beauty, our ability to joyously respond to Him in worship progressively expands. As we reflect on the weight of our sin, the weight of Christ’s isolation, the weight of the Father’s just wrath and the crushing weight of Jesus’ death, a corresponding and eternal weight of glory breaks forth in our hearts, its light and life reaching into the deepest recesses of our souls. This expansion of worship invades the whole of what it is to be human – our minds, our wills, our emotions and our spirits join together in harmony to engage the overwhelming beauty of God’s infinite worth.

Along with the Psalmist, I invite you into the God-sized worship of God. Don’t limp into Easter. As we close the season of Lent, let us fight together to reclaim our blood-bought identity as Easter people. Let us make room for the risen King… Let us make room in our hearts for Him to whom our hearts belong…. May the weight of our worship rise to meet the infinite weight of glory revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

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