Personal Holiness, Christlikeness and the Doctrine of Imputation

by Mike Ratliff

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 (NASB) 

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22 For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (NASB) 

If you have ever listened to or read any defense made by those who claim to be Christians, but also “Gay” then you know that they are very loose with how they handle doctrine and very vital words within those doctrines. One of those key words is “love.” The Biblical definition of love from a Christian perspective is one of self-denial under the sanctifying hand of God. However, for those who are attempting to invade Christianity with their “Gay Agenda,” they redefine “love” from a self-focused, narcissistic bent that is all about seeking self-fulfillment above all no matter who else has to pay the cost. On the other hand, the genuine believer, is regenerate, saved by grace through faith according to the mercy of God, and is on the path or way of learning to deny self even to the point of loving their enemies as Christ commanded.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NASB) 

In our Lord’s statement in v43, the first half is found in Leviticus 19:18, which I placed at the top of this post. However, the second part, “and you shall hate your enemy” was found in how the scribes and Pharisees explained and applied the Old Testament command. Our Lord’s application, however, was exactly the opposite. What was the result? The truly Biblical standard is much higher. The standard of love that is required of God’s people, that includes all of us in Christ, is a love for one’s neighbor that should extend even to those who are enemies (v44). That’s a tough one. I have neighbors that I would really like it if they would move somewhere else. How about you? However, as you see from Proverbs 25:21,22 (above) this was not a new teaching by our Lord at all. Even in the Old Testament we see that God’s people were taught to do good to their enemies.

In v44,45 we are taught to love our enemies and pray for them even if they are persecuting us. Why? This is Christlike behavior plus God is extending his common grace as blessings to all indiscriminately. This is not the same thing as the everlasting love God has for the elect (Jeremiah 31:3), but it is a sincere good will and we should treat everyone the way our Lord would.

In vv47, 48 we have our Lord setting the bar impossibly high. Is this then an imperative that we are commanded to attempt even though our Lord knew it was impossible? The only one capable of this is our Lord himself. He kept the Law perfectly, which is Christ’s active obedience. This is part of what is imputed to Christians when they are justified. J. Gresham Machen said in a telegram to John Murray shortly before his death, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”  You can read about that and the doctrine of double imputation here.

You see, Christ fulfilled the law so the elect, who are incapable of doing so, do not have to. The atonement at the cross of Christ purchased a people unto eternal life. These elect before the foundation of the world are effectually called by God in his timing. They believe the gospel and are then saved by grace through faith. This belief is that turning to Christ as Lord and Saviour and is done according to God’s grace through faith as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9).

At each believer’s justification, Christ’s perfect righteousness and his active obedience are both imputed to them just as their unrighteousness was imputed to him on the cross. This is why believers, even though we are all mired in huge fiery trials of sanctification are seen by God the Father as perfect as our “heavenly Father is perfect.” We are seen by him as possessing the same perfect righteousness and perfect obedience to the law as Jesus Christ himself.

All in Christ have righteous standing before God because of the doctrine of imputation.  We did not earn it. We do nothing to keep. It is ours by the grace of God. What is our part? Our part is obedience and spiritual growth through the grace of God to do the good works God has ordained for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). This includes denying of self, loving our neighbors even if they are unlovely, et cetera. Notice, that most of these things will begin with self-denial and is love in action.

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13 (NASB) 

If you are in Christ then you have both the active and passive obedience of Christ imputed to you.  You are in right standing before the Father. Your part is to grow in Christ, to mature in Him, and obey Him in all things. If we do this then what will we look like? Won’t it look a lot like the positive things Christ talked about in Matthew 5,6, & 7, and what Paul talked about in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 (above)?

We don’t receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness then just kick back.  No, we draw near unto God and He draws near unto us and we become more and more like the Son as we obey Him as we walk in The Way for the rest of our days.

Soli Deo Gloria!