Saturday, February 6, 2016

The sins of the elect were imputed to Christ... (2)

... in order that Jesus Christ should legally stand in our place before God's Law and, having taken upon himself our sins (though in his own person he was and is sinless), in order that he would take upon himself the Law's just sentence of death for our sins which we alone committed and which penalty of death we alone should have borne except for Christ, our Surety, who intervened on our behalf. John Calvin elaborates:
"Moreover the kind of death is not without mystery. The cross was cursed, not only by human opinion but by the decree of God's law (Deut. 21[23]). So when Christ was affixed to a cross He made Himself subject to the curse. It was necessary that this be done: that the curse which we deserved served and which was prepared for our sins be transferred to Him, in order that we might be delivered from it. That had been previously done as a figure in the law. For the victims which were offered for sins were called by the same name "sin" [Lev. 4:1-5:13; 16]; by that name the Holy Spirit wanted to signify that these victims accepted all the curse due to the sin. What was done then by representative figure in the Mosaic sacrifices was fulfilled in truth by Jesus Christ, who is the substance of the figures. That is why, in order to obtain our redemption, "He made His soul a sacrifice for sin;' as the prophet says, in order that all the curse which we deserved as sinners, being cast back on Him, might no longer be imputed to us (Isa. 53[10, ii]). The apostle declares this more clearly when he says that "the One who had never known sin was made sin for us by the Father, in order that in Him we might obtain righteousness before God" (2 Cor. 5[21]). For the Son of God, being pure and clean of every vice, took and clothed Himself with the shame and ignominy of our sins and, on the other hand, covered us with His purity. This is also shown in another passage of St. Paul where it is said that sin was condemned as sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8[3]). For the heavenly Father destroyed the strength of sin when its curse was transferred to the flesh of Jesus Christ. It is clear now what this sentence of the prophet means, that "all our sins were placed on Him" (Isa. 53[6]), that, desiring to wipe out the stains of sins, He first accepted them in His person in order that they might be imputed to Him. So the cross was a sign of that; when Jesus Christ was affixed to the cross He delivered us from the curse of the law (as the apostle says) by being made a curse for us (Gal. 3[13]). For it is written: "Cursed be the one hung on a tree" [Dent. 27:26; Gal. 3:10]. Thus the blessing promised to Abraham was poured out on all peoples. Nevertheless we must not understand that He took our curse in such a way that He was covered and crushed by it, but on the contrary, in receiving it He brought it down, broke it, and tore it in pieces. That is why, in the damnation of Christ faith lays hold on absolution, and in His curse it lays hold on blessing." [emphasis added]
John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541 French Edition. Translated by Elsie Anne McKee William


  1. I think it's important to say that the guilt of the elect is legally shared with Christ, not only that the punishment for that guilt is legally transferred to Christ. Indeed, it would not be just and legal for God to punish His Son unless there was first an imputation of the guilt of the elect to His Son.

    By way of analogy, despite the attempt by NT Wright and others to reduce justification to crediting Christ's status to a sinner without crediting to that sinner Christ's death, according to Romans 4-6 God declares a sinner justified only after God has first legally transferred to that sinner the "objective righteousness" of Christ's death to them. That "objective righteousness" might not be a "solid, liquid, or a gas", but that righteousness is the justice (the merit) God intended by Christ's death.

    To give a second analogy, "original sin" is not merely the corruption all humans are born with because of Adam. The corruption all humans are born with is God's just punishment for the guilt of Adam's first sin, and that guilt has been imputed to us all.

    So imputation is not only about the punishment of sin. Sin itself is imputed, not only punishment. Christ really became guilty, because of the legal transfer of the guilt of the elect. Christ bore their sins, and thus was under the law , according to Romans 6. He bore the sins of the elect in His body on the tree, according to I Peter 2:24, which is why Christ's death to sin is the elect’s death to sin.

    Was Christ transformed inwardly from sin? No! Was Christ punished but never guilty? No! Romans 6 is about Christ being under law, under sin, under death, and then not!

    There is a new creation. There is an old creation. One is in either one or the other. Romans 4-6 is NOT about an individual sinner being transformed into a new creature or getting a "new nature"

    Christ was not transformed. Christ's death did not transform Christ. Christ's death changed His legal status. The justified elect are placed into His death, which changes their legal status.

    1. Agreed - the "guilt of the elect legally shared with" or imputed to Christ. This excerpt of Calvin's is posted mainly to show that the doctrine of the imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ wasn't a post-1600 novelty among Reformed. I doubt the paragraph above was intended by Calvin to be a full unpacking of the imputation of sin, so more can be said for sure.

  2. Agreed, we can't say everything all at one time. And the other problem is that we don't know everything!

    The best discussion I know of the distinction between punishment for guilt and guilt is in John Murray's monograph on the Imputation of Adam's Sin. of course, the distinction between guilt and the punishment for guilt is also a very big part of the critiques of the New England theology (and the writing of Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Fuller)

    It is important not to confuse imputation and justification. It's not only the status of the risen Christ which is imputed, because first Christ's righteousness is imputed to the elect by God.

    There is an important distinction between saying that "imputation causes faith and is before faith" but also saying that "justification results from imputation, then regeneration, then faith" so that there is no such thing as a justified person who does not know or believe the gospel yet. So this means that the elect are NOT "eternally justified" and also that even elect infants jumping in wombs are NOT yet justified.

    Those who have trouble making a distinction between imputation and justification have little to say about the many Bible texts which teach “justification through faith (not works)”. Some of these folks (John Gill) speak of two justifications, one through faith before the conscience.

    The argument reasons from the fact that God’s imputation is before faith and not an experience to his assumption that God’s justification is also before and without faith But the imputation of Adam’s sin and condemnation are two distinct matters, and condemnation is the result of God’s imputation of Adam’s sin.

    Also God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ is distinct from God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect (baptized into the death).

    No matter if "eternal justification" folks agree that all the elect will one day believe the gospel, they are also teaching that all the elect are justified before and without believing.”

    Bavnick--As the internal call directly and immediately,without a time lapse, results in regeneration with “habitual faith,” so also does this faith include from the very beginning of its existence the assurance that not only to others but to me also forgiveness of sins has been granted. This assurance does not need to be added through a special revelation, as asserted by Rome.

    When the Scriptures say of this justification in “a concrete sense” that it takes place by and through faith, then it does not intend to say that it is produced and wrought through that faith, since Jesus Christ is all our righteousness and all benefits of grace are the fruits of his labor and of his labor alone; they are entirely contained in his person and are not in any need of any addition on our part.

    The terminology, that active justification takes place unto and passive justification by and through faith may have some value against nomism, but the Scriptural language is entirely adequate provided it is understood Scripturally. Saving faith directs our eyes and heart from the very beginning away from ourselves and unto God’s mercy in Christ.

    "Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious."