Is imputed righteousness a lie? Is it overcoming sin that saves us?

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Readers Question / Comment - Is imputed righteousness a lie? Is it overcoming sin that saves us?


I've written you before just not from this email. Lately I've had some wavering in my faith. I've been wondering while reading some scripture, whether we really are imputed with the righteousness of Christ. The reason being is that there are many scriptures in the new testament that say things that seem to be the opposite of that.

For instance, when Christ speaks to the church of Sardis in Revelations he tells them that there will be some of them who walk with him in white who have not spotted their robes.

I'm not sure how this can be taken any other way than to say that those who do not use the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin will not make it to heaven.

Also the verse that speaks of those sowing to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption but those that sow to the spirit will reap everlasting life.

There are many more as I'm sure you are aware. Not to mention there are 2 verses I've run across one in Romans and one in something Peter said that spoke of our past sins being cleansed.

This has started to make me think that perhaps it's not imputed righteousness but faith in Christ that allows us to overcome sin that saves us.

For instance the verse that says it is not of works for it is God who works in you to will and to want to work.

I'm starting to see that different. I'm starting to see it as, since it is God who wills and wants us to work then these works are HIS works, not our own. So by allowing him to work these works in us we keep our robes clean and from being spotted and that is how we are saved by faith in the complete work of Christ. His blood cleanses us from past sins, His Spirit does the works that are necessary to overcome the flesh and his blood continues to cleanse us from all unrighteousness as we walk with him in the light.

In other words it's starting to look like we are not imputed with righteousness. I'm so scared because my spiritual life depends on this.

Here is a Youtube video of someone who is saying the same thing. I tried to defend the faith as I've known it But find what he is saying the same thing that I've been thinking.

I'm really sorry to put this on you, but if you do have time please pray and help because I can't see my way right now and I'm really scared.

JPN Reply:


Thanks for writing in and I understand why you are now feeling fearful. On the one hand you are worried that what you believed previously isn't correct so you are concerned about your salvation. On the other hand, if what you now think might be correct, is correct (that we are not imputed with the righteousness of Christ but it is faith in Christ that overcomes sins that save us) then fear is a natural response because who of us, when faced with a infinitely Holy God, could ever say that we have overcome sin ENOUGH to be acceptable in His sight? Is it overcome in your life? In your thoughts? In your heart? Obviously this is a frightening way to live and to base your salvation on as no one can honestly say that they have overcome enough today, let along what may happen tomorrow - even though we desire to live righteous lives in Him. In the end It all leads to 'daisy salvation' where 'He loves me, he loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not'...

Thankfully the Bible is clear. God wants believers to KNOW that they have salvation, not to be living in an uncertain state in limbo. Look at the definite statements made about the one who believes in Jesus:

1 John 5:10-13 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. (11) And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (12) He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (13) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Look at some of the verses concerning justification:

Yes, you will always find some verses that sound different but that is why context is important. It is certainly true that a genuine born again believer should have evidence of that in their life. But we are not to throw out the vast majority of the scriptures that state the same biblical truth because of some other verses that we interpret to mean something else (like the man in the video did - however genuine and zealous he may be.)

Romans and imputed righteousness

You said you were worried about a verse in Romans. Romans is the most theological book in the New Testament concerning salvation and an important place to study! And there is so much about the imputed righteousness of Christ in Romans, especially in chapter 3,4,5. So what does 'inputted' actually mean? It means to attribute or credit or reckon something to someone or someone's account. This is EXACTLY what Paul speaks about in Romans to talk about what Christ has done for us! For example, he uses two of the big names from the Old Testament, Abraham and David, to show that they were 'imputed' or 'credited' with righteousness by grace and not of works. Look at how often the word or same thought is used:

Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED (OR IMPUTED) TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."

Romans 4:4-5 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited (or imputed) to him as a gift, but as an obligation. (5) However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 4:6-8 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: (7) "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; (8) Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin."

Romans 4:22-24 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." (23) The words "it was credited to him" (nb: credited, reckoned, imputed all mean the same thing - same Greek word 'logizomai') were written not for him alone, (24) but also for us, to whom God will credit (or impute) righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

So for someone to say there is no such thing as imputed righteousness or that it is a wicked doctrine, as your youtube man did, just goes to show that he doesn't know what he is actually talking about yet. To him who does not work but trust God who justified the WICKED, his faith is credited or reckoned or imputed to him as righteousness. (Rom 4:5) We have seen that both Abraham and David spoke of the gift of righteousness by grace, apart from works, that is imputed to us. And Paul says that this is available for us in Christ as well. Romans chapter 3 laid the foundation that there is no other way that a person can be righteous in God's sight.

So what of the verses you mentioned?

You wrote: 'For instance the verse that says it is not of works for it is God who works in you to will and to want to work.' - This is actually parts of two different verses that you have joined into one. They teach that salvation is by grace but that God has prepared works for us to do and we should allow that salvation that is inward to be 'worked out' (not worked for) through our life.

There is: Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

And Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (13) for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

I write about this here if interested:

You spoke of the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3

Revelation 3:1-4 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. (2) 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. (3) 'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. (4) 'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

I understand why this can cause confusion but we need to remember that the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 were not only different churches at the time of John in the first century but also spoke of church ages throughout the ages. They also contain, as all churches do, both true and false 'Christians'. So what of Sardis? Sardis is the DEAD church in the list. We aren't talking about believers with a living faith here. We are talking about people that had a name that they were something but were actually dead. And again, as Revelation is a prophetic book Sardis represents a church age. Historically this speaks of the Protestant churches that came out of the Reformation like the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican etc. They had a good start, they had a valid name, but given time many of them became DEAD! That is not to say all were dead within them. Jesus said there are some within them that walk with Him in white (the white robes in Revelation are a picture of salvation as indicated by Rev 7:14 - they are washed white in the blood of the lamb.) But many in this church and church age had a dead religion only. Being an overcomer involves a true active belief in the Lord Jesus, not a dead faith as these had.

1 John 5:4-5 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (5) Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

You also mentioned Gal 6:8. It is good to read it in its whole context which is about giving (both before and after the verse) and the results in this life:
Galatians 6:6-10 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. (7) Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (8) The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (9) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (10) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

The Bible Believers Commentary states well on this:

6:8 Although it is true in a general sense that we reap whatever we sow, it should be noticed that this reminder follows an exhortation on Christian giving. Viewed in that light, we see that sowing to the flesh means spending one's money on oneself, one's own pleasures and comforts. Sowing to the Spirit is using one's money for the furtherance of God's interests. Those who do the former reap a harvest of disappointment and loss right here on earth because they learn as they grow older that the flesh they lived to please is decaying and dying. Then in the age to come they lose eternal rewards. Those who sow to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. There are two ways in which eternal life (same word translated everlasting) is used in the Bible: (1) It is the present possession of every believer (Joh_3:36). (2) It is that which the believer receives at the end of his life here on earth (Rom_6:22). Those who sow to the Spirit enjoy eternal life here and now in a way which other Christians do not. Then, too, they will reap the rewards which accompany faithfulness when they reach their heavenly home.

So hopefully you can see that in its context it is talking of the results of giving and the rewards still to come, not the loss of salvation.

You spoke of 2 Peter 1:9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

This is speaking of the 'cleansing' from past sins. There is ongoing 'cleansing' even though with are righteous or 'clean' in God's sight. See John 13:8-10 where Jesus pictures this. In regards to the forgiveness of sin there is a once and for all forgiveness (like Heb 10:14, Col 2;13-14) and an ongoing forgiveness as we confess. It is important to know the difference:

Well I hope this helps. Sorry... a bit long winded but you stated quite a few different thoughts/verses.

At the end of the day if there was not righteousness 'credited', 'imputed' or 'reckoned' to our account then NONE would be righteous before God. And everything that the Bible says about those 'in Christ' would not be true. For example, please read this study and meditate on it for it shows what is true of every believer in Christ Jesus - this is the state that God has placed us in because of what Jesus did on our behalf - and it is WONDERFUL!

Paul said that it was his desire to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law (our life and works) but having the righteousness that is by faith (Phil 3:8-9). Can you say the same?

There is a righteous life that proceeds from our righteous state. There is a biblical emphasis on sanctification that follows our justification. Absolutely. When taught in the correct order (which is justification as a free gift by grace to all who believe first, then sanctification) we have the right foundation to grow. Granted... It isn't without people getting the wrong idea and possibly exploiting it (the doctrine of grace always opens itself up to those who may seek to exploit it), but it is the right biblical foundation. When you get the horse before the cart and place the emphasis on our righteous life for salvation (as your email did) then we are not on a solid foundation but on shaky sand indeed that lacks peace and assurance. Listen again to the old hymn:

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand."

Hope this helps,

May God Bless as you look further into these things.