Imputed righteousness—real or make-believe?

Imputed righteousness—real or make-believe?

Abraham’s faith in God was accounted to him for righteousness. But what does faith involve?

Imputed righteousness because of faith

Most people who speak about imputed righteousness think of a sinner who believes in the atonement, so that Jesus’ life—His unmerited righteousness—is imputed to him. There are few people who consider the fact that Jesus’ righteousness is meant to become their personal life; they think it is something that is only imputed to them.

This was not so with Abraham. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:6 (emphasis added). At this time, God had promised him a son. Abraham would have committed an act of gross injustice if he had not believed. He would have made God a liar. But Abraham gave the glory to God and considered Him true. He believed that God both would and could do what He had promised. The fact that he believed, that was accounted to him for righteousness. In other words, he was righteous because he believed the promise. He believed that God would give him his son. Even though he grew old, and Sarah’s womb was dead, he did not waver, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:19–24). The fact that Abraham gave all the glory to God was evidence of his righteousness.


This was written for our sake. Who is it who considers God to be true? God has also given us sinful people tremendous promises. “By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature […]” 2 Peter 1:3–4. He who believes it will happen to him considers God true, and that will be accounted to him for righteousness.

“And you […] He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight […]” Colossians 1:21–22.

These are glorious promises, but who believes them so that it will be accounted to him for righteousness? Very many people have lost faith in God’s faithfulness—that He will do this with them and that He is mighty to do it, great sinners that they are. No, they do not believe that God can do it—that He is mighty to do such a work with them. And so they believe that He will simply impute Jesus’ righteousness to them without any promises being fulfilled in their own lives. It should just be considered to be so. Is that giving glory to God? Is it righteous to believe that God treats His promises like that? Do you believe that this faith will be accounted to you for righteousness? Thousands of people live in this perverted grace that Jude writes about in verse 4, and God has not fulfilled His promises in their lives.

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Righteousness—not only imputed, but a reality

“But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25.

Someone who does not eagerly wait for it does not believe either. Abraham believed, and he eagerly awaited Isaac—the fulfillment of the promise. He experienced what he believed—he received Isaac. Abraham left steps of faith behind (Romans 4:12)! He obeyed when he was called (Hebrews 11:8).

We are Abraham’s children if we walk in obedience to the faith. Then we obtain what was promised (Galatians 3:7); we partake of divine nature. We eagerly wait for it and flee the corruption that is in the world through lust. We do everything without complaining and doubting so we can be blameless and pure “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:14–15.

Here we see clearly that [the promise] is not meant as something make-believe that shall be only imputed to us, but that it shall be fulfilled in our lives in this world. And if we believe in Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, it will be accounted to us for righteousness (Ephesians 3:20).

This article has been translated from Norwegian and was first published with the title “Den tilregnede rettferdighet” (“The imputed righteousness”) in the periodical Skjulte Skatter (Hidden Treasures) in June 1967.
© Copyright Stiftelsen Skjulte Skatters Forlag | ActiveChristianity

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.