New book by SBTS prof unfolds traditional doctrine of salvation by Christ’s imputed righteousness

Communications Staff — February 9, 2007

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His hearers that a person must be perfect if he or she is to gain entrance into the kingdom of God.

Historically, Christians have understood the Bible—and particularly the writings of the apostle Paul—to teach that God gives, or “imputes,” this required righteousness to sinners who repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Christ’s sinless life—His keeping perfectly the law of God as a human being—and His work on the cross in paying for sins are given as redeeming gifts to those who trust in Christ alone for salvation.

In recent years, the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness has come under attack by those who hold to the so-called “New Perspective” on the theology of the apostle Paul. New Perspective scholars such as N.T. Wright and E.P. Sanders have called into question, revised and even rejected this vital doctrine as it has been understood historically by Christians.

In his new book “Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation” (Crossway), Brian Vickers unfolds from Scripture and defends the classical doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Vickers serves as assistant professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The book begins with a historical overview of the differing theological perspectives of imputation in church history. The remainder of the work explains in meticulous detail from Scripture the doctrine of imputation.

Vickers focuses due attention on Romans 4, Romans 5:12-21 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, texts that sit at the heart of the apostle Paul’s teaching on justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ by which a sinner is made right with God.

The author also examines a host of theological issues related to justification and imputation such as the role of faith in salvation. Vickers argues that Paul’s point in showing how a sinner is made right with God is, above all, to shine forth the glory of God in saving sinners by grace through faith apart from works.

“Paul introduces imputation to support the main idea that justification is, and always has been, by faith rather than works,” he writes.

“The reckoning metaphor (in Romans 4), ‘reckoned to him for righteousness,’ serves the greater point that a person stands in a right relationship with God only by faith. Paul uses the metaphor of reckoning, taken from Genesis 15:6, to argue that there is only one way for anyone, even father Abraham, to stand before God. Righteousness before God is not a matter of remuneration. Righteousness is, rather, something received as a gift; it is reckoned, not earned—in fact, far from being earned, it is something granted to the ungodly.”

After elucidating all the key biblical texts that underpin the doctrine of imputation, Vickers admits that, “Taken alone, not one of the ‘key’ texts that have played such an integral role in the historical discussion argues decisively, or explicitly, for a full-orbed doctrine of imputation.” However, taken as a whole, the entire biblical witness articulates clearly the doctrine of imputation as Christians through the ages have understood it, Vickers concludes.

There are five common themes running through the “imputation texts,” Vickers writes, all of which spotlight the grace of God in salvation. Vickers asserts that the biblical texts, taken together, teach that:

· An action takes place outside the believer.

· That action is specifically God acting in Christ.

· The action is taken on behalf of sinners.

· The action is an act of grace that is affected or applied to sinners.

· The action takes place on behalf of the believer who is in union with Christ.

In the end, a sinner’s right standing before God is impossible unless Christ’s righteousness is given to him by grace, Vickers argues.

“These common themes make it difficult to locate justifying righteousness apart from Christ and his righteousness,” Vickers writes.

“A right standing before God depends on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. By this I mean that Christ’s fulfilling of all righteousness—his obedience to the Father’s will and commands in his role as the second Adam, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection that vindicates the cross and ushers in a new eschatological era—becomes our by faith in union with him. It is on this basis that a believer is reckoned righteous.”

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