When we become a Christian, we are declared right, and just, and perfect in Gods sight, not because we are those things but because Jesus is, and through faith, not only are our sins imputed on to him, so that we receive forgiveness. But his righteousness is imputed onto us, so that we receive righteousness.
A simple way to explain imputation is credited. This is at the very heart of Christianity. You see, when he paid the penalty for our sins upon that cross, our sins were laid upon him. Jesus did not actually become sinful, rather he stood in our law place, and took the punishment we deserved. He died a death we could never die. We would have to die a million trillion deaths to pay for ours sins. Unending, eternal deaths. Because our sin is against an infinitely Holy God. But Jesus paid an infinite payment, because he is infinitely worthy and we could never do that.
And so because of Jesus, our slate is wiped clean. We are forgiven. Are sins are paid for. But if it just stopped there. We would still be doomed. If Jesus had come to the earth and went straight to the cross, and all our sins were paid for, we would still all be doomed. Because we would be forgiven, but we would not have any righteousness. And thus we would still fall short of the glory of God.
You see, our problem with sin is not just that we have done wrong. It is also that we cannot do right. Our problem is not just the fact that we do wrong, it is also in the fact that we fall short of the standard. The standard is perfection, and we fall short of that. And so Jesus didn’t come just to die, he came to live a perfect life as well. And to rise triumphantly from the grave - sealing the deal. Therefore, his righteousness is imputed to us. His perfect life is laid upon us, credited to our account.
The substitutionary life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. And imputation. His imputation to us, and our imputation to him. And so Jesus lived a perfect life. And died a perfect death. Jesus doesn’t actually become sinful, and we don’t actually become righteous. Imputation is at the very of true Christianity. That’s the difference between Catholic Theology and all other aberrant views.
Catholicism and many other Pelagian views teach what is called ‘infused righteousness’, not imputed. Catholic Theology teaches that we are infused with Christ righteousness. And that we are given his actual righteousness. This is part of the reason why salvation in the Catholic way of thinking can never be guaranteed. Because they make the grounds for salvation to be whether you are reaching a certain. And then they even tell you those standards are. The confuse justification (the moment you become right with God based on faith) with sanctification (growing in Christlikeness through the Spirit).
My friends, it’s not about opinions. This is at the very heart of the gospel. And so in all actuality, Jesus’s perfect life is credited to us, (imputed to us). Just like Jesus didn’t actually become sinful on the cross. It is heresy to teach that the son of God, the very God of God became sinful. No. He bore our sin. Sin was laid upon him. He stood in our law place. He stood in the place, where we deserved to stand. And our sins were laid upon him, credited to him, imputed to him. And he took them. And paid for every last drop of them. It is finished he said. He drank the very last dregs of the cup of God’s wrath down. Took it all. And then rose triumphantly 3 days later from the grave.
So at salvation. The moment we first believe that. We don’t actually become righteous. We become justified. On the account of Christ perfect life, perfect death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is imparted to us, credited to us - through faith. And at that moment, we are treated as perfect by God the Father, because our slates are not only wiped clean with forgiveness but also filled up with righteousness. Thus double imputation.
And there is no salvation without one or the other. "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 Corinthians 5:21)
You can see this imputed aspect. How salvation is based upon this idea of imputation most clearly in Romans 4 …. "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness... No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Romans 4:2-5, 20-25)
Now some people might say… Well what about James … in your Bible reading, you will eventually get to James, where it says faith apart from works is dead. So let me just tell you this really quick in a over-simplified straight to the point kind of way. Paul and James are approaching this idea of works from 2 different angles and they are not opposed to each other. James is approaching it as evidence of our salvation. Fruit. You know. You will know a tree by its fruit.
And Paul, here in Romans 4, is approaching it as grounds for our salvation. What is the basis of our salvation? What is the grounds? And the grounds for our salvation is Jesus. Apprehended or acquired by faith. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s it. And it’s a solid grounds. Our faith might not always be unshakeable. But who we have faith in, is unshakeable.
So this has happened to all Christians. All Christians are righteous, not because we are actually righteous but because we are declared righteous on the basis of what Jesus did for us. But nevertheless as we live the Christian life, we actually become more righteous as well. This is called sanctification —- becoming more and more like what God has already declared you to be in Christ.
Unlike Roman Catholicism, or other aberrant views, this has nothing to do with the basis of our salvation. It is not the grounds for it. But rather sanctification is the working out of our salvation. It is why the thief on the cross can go to heaven moments after he believes. Now if that thief would have lived, the longer he lived, he would have ended up going to heaven, looking less thief like and more Christ like. But nevertheless it is not our Christlikeness that gets us to heaven but rather Christ in us, the hope of glory that does that.
But having said that, the longer we live, we actually become more righteous. More and more Christ like and this is called sanctification. This is were the fruit happens. Our salvation is not based on the fruit. It is based on the root. That Holy Spirit inspired faith. Were there is a root, there will be fruit, if that tree lives to grow. And not only that but we are given spiritual gifts. This is the marvelous work of the Holy Spirit. You see, our position before God is brought about all all because of Christ. We are united to Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and our growth in Christ is because of the Holy Spirit. So positionally we are in Christ, the moment we believe … that’s our position. Complete perfection. You cant get any better than that. You can never become more or less saved then the moment you first believed.
But then practically we actually become more and more Christ like, as we work out what the Spirit is working in us. This is what Philippians 2:12-13 says, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
And so we receive the Spirit when we first believe Ephesians 1:13 … in fact it is the Spirit that brings us into belief ….1 Corinthians 2:9-12 says, ""But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God"
So the Spirit brings us to belief and then seals us in our belief and then it is through the Spirit we are transformed more in more in to what God has declared us to be when we believed… that is more and more like Christ … "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[b] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18)
You might be thinking what does this have to do with the doctrine of Elders. Don’t worry this will make sense in a second.
Well, the way God has ordained it, is that his gospel not only goes out into the world through believers, but that believers grow in the together faith through other believers. You see people do come to faith because of the Holy Spirit, and people do grow in their faith because of the Holy Spirit. But how does the Holy Spirit dwell and work in this world? Mainly through believers. Every believers has the Holy Spirit. And so you see it is through believers sharing the word, encouraging one another in the word, praying the word, singing the word, and exhorting and challenging others in the word that the gospel goes forth and deepens.
So you see, christianity is a community project, not only in it’s spreading but in it’s growing. When you are saved you are saved into a community. At least you should be. That is God’s plan for the Christian life. If you are not connected to a local New Testament church, you can still be a christian, but you can’t be an obedient one. And so you become part of a community of people who care for one another. And each of these people in the community have the Holy Spirit and each of these people have different gifts and are at different steps in the christian life. And so what God has ordained is that each individual Christian be fitted together into a body, to be rooted together, to be built up together, to be joined together.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 … Now he goes on to say … Can the foot say to the hand that I don’t need you … and fills that out … and the answer is… No! … all are needed. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose…. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
And some Christians God graces with this ability and desire to handle his word … even in a way that helps build others up and understand it better and then calls them to be Pastors. And this is Gods grace. It’s good for the Church.