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Imputed? Infused? Confused?

June 8, 2011

Unless someone is involved in a deep study of their faith or have researched or looked into Christianity beyond reading the church’s “Articles of Faith” or “Statement of Faith” (which, is a completely foreign concept to Catholics, by the way.  Although, we could start you off by pointing you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church) they probably have only vaguely heard of, or understand, the concept of righteous obtainment.

Protestants to whom the question is asked sometimes quote Romans 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” or 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV)
[I know the NIV is considered my many, including myself, to be a bad translation, but many use it and it is decidedly Protestant.]

Therefore, I think, many will answer, when asked, that they are made righteous through faith (alone) in Jesus Christ.

The explanation (and, in many cases, the understanding) does not extend beyond that.  Any further contemplation regarding righteousness can bring about a muddled and murky exercise in explaining or clarifying ones own understanding of the matter.

The truth of the matter is that the tenant of faith promulgated undisputedly across all denominations of Protestantism is the belief in what is known as “imputed” righteousness.  The most famously well know definition of this is commonly attributed to Martin Luther as, “A dunghill covered by snow”.
It is most simply the illustration that: “We are a dunghill, repugnant to God, sinners worthy of condemnation.  Justification is likened to a snowfall that covers over the dunghill.  The dunghill is still a dunghill, but that which was once offensive to God is now covered over with a pure blanket so that the offense is no longer seen.  It is the belief in an ‘alien righteousness.’”  Anti-Catholic author, James White

The process then known as Sanctification begins which starts turning the ‘dunghill’ of a soul into a good soul worthy of Heaven.  (which, as an aside, would worry me since – what if I die before I’m fully sanctified since “nothing defiled will enter Heaven.” [cf – Revelation 21:27])

The Catholic belief is that a believer is “infused” with righteousness.  That is that the soul of the believer is actually made righteous upon not only believing in Christ but in Baptism as well.  Citing the passages of the Bible, it states, “Truly, truly, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3: 3,5.

Ananias tells Saul in Acts 22:16, “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.”

Titus 3: 6 states, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth [Baptism] and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”(NIV)

In Acts 2 the people ask Peter, “What must we do to be SAVED?”  Peter replies to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children (this phrase is a proof text for supporting infant Baptism) and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38,39; NIV)  (Nowhere, by the way, does Peter say, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and you’ll be eternally saved.”)

Jesus Himself says in Mark 16:16, “He who believes AND is baptized will be saved.”

Being Baptized then cannot be not merely symbolic and is believed by Catholics to infuse righteousness into the believer because it removes all stain of sin (Acts 22:16) and that, so many times, as cited through the previous verses, effects the initial step of Salvation.  Catholics also believe that sanctification is received by justification at the same time and that both flux, ebb, and flow throughout a Christian’s life as much as sin or grace affect the individual.  As stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11, But you were washed [Baptized], you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  The word ‘sanctified’ means, “to make holy; purify”.  Therefore, we are not working toward our sanctification we are already sanctified as Paul states in the Bible.  However, because man sins and does wrong in the eyes of God, mans’ holiness can be affected and, being or remaining in a state of mortal sin (cf. 1 John 5:16,17) can affect his Salvation. (cf. Matt. 10:22, 1 Cor. 9:27)

This offers a penetrating look at not only Baptism but the other rites and meanings behind them.  There are seven in the Catholic Church and they’re called Sacraments.  All Sacraments affect change in the individual when one partakes of them.  Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Reconcilliation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Annointing of the Sick.  Most of the Sacraments, especially those which can be repeated regularly i.e. – Reconcilliation and Communion, impart grace upon the participant.

For many Protestants, there are generally only three and they’re called ‘ordinations’ and they affect no change in the individual.  They are only a symbolic representation of something.  For Protestants there is symbolic Baptism which, in most cases, simply is a symbolic representation of the person’s personal acceptance of Christ as his “personal Lord and Savior”.  Baptism is not what saves a person, nor does it wash away sins.  It merely represents the real salvific moment which was the persons decision to “accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior” as understood by the expression of being “saved”.  Some denominations do practice a truncated form of infant Baptism, from which, as this author understands, is dedicating the baby’s soul to God – this has been taken up by Evangelicals who choose to call it a “baby dedication” instead.  There is also the Lord’s Supper and Marriage; both equally symbolic and affecting no change in the individual.

An argument for the mostly symbolic nature of Protestant belief both in its “ordinances” and its belief regarding the state of the soul is an interpretation of the word ‘reckoned’ in the Bible.  For instance, the aforementioned anti-Catholic writes in one of his books that the word ‘reckoned’ is interchangeable with the word ‘impute’ and states that it is a legalistic term as would be found in accounting whereby if someone is reckoned something there is no subjective change in that person.  He cites as his source a word in Hebrew that he states is hashav and that it is the word for ‘reckoned’ in the Bible.  Also, that word was translated in the Greek Septuagint (used by Paul) with the very same term, thus in both the Old and New Testament the term hashav means reckoned which means imputed.

First of all, hashav isn’t even the correct Hebrew word.  The correct Hebrew word, according to the Protestant website Bible Study Tools 1  is stated to be chashab and the initial meaning of it is, to esteem or count, or to make a judgment.  The second meaning, third definition is to impute or reckon.  Overall, the Lexicon states, the word meaning count for this word in the Bible stands at: consider 3, considered 13, counted 1, counts 1, esteem 2, esteemed 2, with reckoned at 10 and impute only 1.

Accordingly, the Greek word for reckoned is logizomai and according to the notes in the RSV-CE Bible for Romans 4:4, “It is a business term for recording credits and debits.  It can also be translated “counted”.  When Paul stresses that righteousness is booked to our credit as a gift, he does not imply that the gift is merely imputed to the believer in an external way.  In his mind, the divine record corresponds to reality, that is, we are counted righteous because we are made righteous in Christ (Romans 5:19)”.  In other words, in the context of the meaning of the word logizomai as a business term, you are given what you truly are “owed” for your investment.  You really get what you give.  You don’t get a phantom “credit”.  In an even more tangible simplistic business metaphor, someone actually gives you compensation for what’s due, they don’t just slap your hand and say, ‘there you go’.

I heard a man on the TV this past Sunday that, so far, I’ve rather like.  He basically goes by Baptist tenants of faith and he preaches out of a non-denominational church in San Diego, but anytime I’ve heard him he’s been quite practical despite some theological differences of approach.  He’s preaching a series on spiritual warfare and his sermon was on righteousness.

He said, “When we put our trust in Him for eternal life, not only does he forgive our sin but he gives to us his righteousness and we become positionally righteous in Jesus Christ.  That is the greatest bargain the world has ever known… [people focus on the negative side which is only Christ’s death on the Cross.  They forget the positive side which is] the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to us so that we are now able to stand before God clothed in that righteousness… When you put on the ‘breastplate of righteousness’, it symbolizes the fact that you are protected by the righteousness of Christ…  [God says] I do not see the [individual] as others do, I see him through my Son Jesus Christ so when I look at him I see that he is righteous… that’s what it means to be filled with the righteousness of Christ and to have that righteousness imputed to you.  So I don’t have to be worried when Satan accuses me before the father because I know when God looks at me, he sees Christ and his righteousness.  (A theological idea of “once saved; always saved” whereby your actions do not ultimately affect your eternal destination) So that is called positional righteousness.  That means the righteousness I always have with God, no matter what’s going on in my life, Almighty God sees me through what Jesus did on the Cross… I don’t know what that does for you, but that’s an amazing truth, is it not?”  He goes on to say that “sanctification is the process of growing holy” which, as we saw from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition listed above, it means not that one is processing to holiness, but that one is holy.

If I am answering his question honestly I would have to say that sounds awful to me and it sounds like an “easy way out”.  Especially since I am aware of a different viewpoint with which most Christians may not be.  It sounds awful to me because it means that there is no real holiness or righteousness within me.  I am not now, nor could I ever really be a holy, grace filled person.  God doesn’t actually change me or my being.  He just throws the “cloak of Christ” over me.  However, what happens when I get to Heaven?  I will be judged “according to my works” (cf. Rev. 22:12) according to what I did.  Not through a “reflection” of Christ.  What a letdown to know that God can’t or won’t really change you and that you are still the same sorriful sinful being you were before, except now God will only see you because you “put on” His Son.

So then the idea in Protestantism is to hope that we’re sanctified or holy enough to stand perfectly in front of God at the end by ourselves without Christ as our shield?  Secondly, it sounds like an “easy way out” of this life because it implies that no matter what I do or how sinful I am in this life, God doesn’t really see it because he only sees Christ’s death on the Cross as payment for that sin.  That, if I’m really “saved” I’ll act accordingly or at least be repentant and try not do it again, but even if I did, it doesn’t matter because I truly believe in Christ so I’m okay.

I would much rather be infused with righteousness.  A way of really washing away my sins through Baptism truly making me a “new creature in Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).  According to what I read in the Bible, we are.  We are born to a new life; members of His Body, branches grafted onto the vine which is Christ Himself.

“The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism”.  By Grace man turns toward God (“not of works, lest any man should boast.”) and away from sin.  Justification is not only the remission of sin but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.  (CCC 1987-89 [parenthesis mine])

Justification is merited by Christ but is conferred by grace through the working of the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of faith which is Baptism.  Sanctification comes through grace, conferred on the soul at Baptism which washes away sins and heals the soul.  Therefore, I am working in cooperation with God’s grace for the works which he has prepared for me beforehand (Eph. 2:10) through love, for the attainment of my eternal reward.  This can be hindered by sin and separation (possibly eternal) from God.  Therefore, I am an active participant with God working in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit for Salvation.

It seems a much more empowering idea.




4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    June 9, 2011 1:37 pm


    First of all, it was very good and brave of you to bring up this subject – surprisingly, few Catholics are even aware of it (and fewer Protestants truly understand the key details).

    After reading your post, you would be VERY INTERESTED in this Article, which James White even responded to in ‘Part 2’ (well, sort of).

    See especially the End Note in that link, which addresses chashab (it could be pronounced hashav).

  2. Christine permalink*
    June 9, 2011 5:41 pm

    Thank you for your kind comment and the link. As you can see, I’m not a very big White fan 😉 so your additional information is appreciated.
    God Bless

  3. FourFingersBackAtYou permalink
    October 20, 2015 2:44 pm

    When grace is imputed to me from the Catholic ‘Treasury of Merit’, is that too a “phantom credit”?

    • October 25, 2015 8:30 am

      Well, since it’s from the Catholic Treasury of Merit it wouldn’t be imputed to you at all, but infused.

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