What about Imputation ?

‘Popular Theories Considered

Keeping in mind what we concluded above, (we are without excuse and we are able to resist external influence) we will now consider the main tenets of certain popular and influential doctrines regarding the nature and effect of sin. It is often the case that ideas are perpetuated and defended, not because they are the best Biblical option but, because a well-respected and loved representative of a particular school of thought had presented it. In many ways this is understandable and yet, at times, this can become a barrier to truth. What follows is, admittedly, brief and “stripped down.” However, I intend to represent the following ideas accurately. Our goal is to see how such theories line up with the basic truth we saw in Romans 1 and Ezekiel 18.


There are a number of theories of sin which rely upon a scheme of imputation. As we consider this theory, we will be careful to distinguish the Biblical usage of the word / concept from the overreach present in the way it is often applied in common theories of imputation.

There are two ways imputation is applied. First, we can impute responsibility, motive or character to a particular person related to their own action. An example of this is found throughout the fourth chapter of Romans. Imputation is seen in the words reckon(ed) or credit(ed).[1] The discussion involves how one’s belief or faith is credited as righteousness or justification to the one with such faith. This is the proper, consistent, Biblical usage of the word and of the concept of imputed righteousness. Next, the word can be used to reckon to or apply to someone’s account based on the action or character of someone else. In this usage of the word, the theories of imputation depart from sound, Biblical teaching. In reference to sin, it is often stated that Adam’s sin has been imputed to the entire human race. The main passage used to defend this idea is Ro.5:12-21. Though this passage addresses the topic of sin entering the world through Adam and the affect this has had on the human race, it does not teach that his sin was imputed to anyone. The only reference to imputation in this passage teaches that sin is not imputed if there is not law.[2] Further, it is often stated that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. Passages used to defend this indicate that belief in and, consequently, being in Christ is considered or reckoned (recognized as) righteousness (Ro.3:21-22; 1 Co.1:30; 2 Co.5:21; Ro.5:17, 19; Phil.3:9). This is, at best, an implication drawn from previously accepting the theory and then reading it into the passage. Careful consideration will help us see how accepting a theory can lead to putting a certain spin on the text of Scripture that is not actually present in the text.

Within certain theories of imputation we find a number of words, phrases and concepts that have become relatively common. Within this grouping we find, “original sin,” “The Federal Headship Theory,” “sinful nature,” “total depravity” and doctrines of inability. The effect of such thinking is that the guilt of every individual is based upon the choice and action of Adam (the sin of Adam) as our representative. This plays out in two possible ways. It is proposed by some that we participated in his sin in that we were actually present in seed form, consequently, you and I sinned (in Adam). Others use a more direct form of imputation by stating that God simply imputes Adams sin to all human beings since God’s arrangement involved Adam serving as our representative or federal head.

Beyond, but in conjunction with, that which is stated above, the outcome is that all human beings born, thereafter, are totally depraved. This means that human beings have no ability to properly respond God. This concept plays out in one of two ways. Some emphasize the loss of something resulting in no ability to obey while others emphasize the addition or deposit of something, commonly called a sinful nature, causing constant disobedience. The phrase “sinful nature” is not a Biblical phrase though  the NIV translates the word sarx (flesh) with this phrase based on a doctrinal preference, not a grammatical basis. Within this framework it is stated that human beings are born sinners; born in a state of sin.[3]

Questions and Concerns

A preliminary concern with such theories is that they are in opposition to the principles established in Romans 1 and Ezekiel 18. Both passages point to personal accountability based on one’s moral choice. Paul states we are without excuse for such choice and Ezekiel indicates we do not have to allow immoral influence to lead to immorality.

A serious question to ponder relates to God’s actions in human history as revealed in the pages of Biblical history. We should be prepared to ask and answer the question, “If doctrines of sin based on imputation schemes are true, what did God intend to accomplish by destroying mankind and beginning to repopulate planet earth from Noah and his family?”

In other words, if the moral state of mankind was strictly and utterly the result of imputation, such imputation would not have been eliminated by the flood as Noah and his family would have been victims of the same “infection.” Sparing Noah, “a righteous man, blameless in his time” (a strange statement if the previously considered theories are accurate), could not have produced a positive outcome and would have change nothing regarding the moral state of the human race.

The next question we should probe can be considered the flip-side of imputation. If Adams sin made everyone sinners, would not Adams reconciliation result in the reconciliation of all humans? If we was the Federal Head, whatever happened to him happened to all. I rarely hear imputation theorists pursue this line of reasoning. I have read, however, from such proponents that the fact that God, Himself, “made garments of skin for Adam” conveys that Adam was saved by grace. Unless God’s imputation scheme ceased upon Adam’s sin, this would also mean that, by imputation through the federal representative, all of mankind was saved by grace at that moment. If sin and guilt were imputed, forgiveness and salvation was imputed.

I am not suggesting that I believe in universalism on this basis, I am suggesting that we must rethink and reject such schemes of imputation.

Finally, regarding the suggestion that total depravity resulted from the original sin, I would ask if the prevailing sense we get from the pages of Scripture suggest that God proceeds as though human beings have no ability to obey. Consider, as a rather forthright example, Dt.30:11-14 which reads, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”

For these reason, I believe it would behoove us to reconsider some of the popular theories set forth in this vein. If we are to work together with the Spirit of God to encourage conviction which leads to repentance, we cannot communicate concepts that lead people to see themselves as victims of a system, established by God, that causes their sin and guilt and, at the same time, expect them to come under conviction or repent of sin.


[1] Other words often used are considered, counted, accounted and regarded.

[2] The point of this statement is to affirm that law was, in fact, in operation when Adam’s actions were recognized as sin. There was law (as a general, moral concept) but not the Law (as in the Mosaic Law).

[3] This specific idea will be considered later but for now it is important to understand that people can be born with moral and natural capabilities but not with moral character or accountability. The use of one’s moral agency produces one’s moral accountability and character.’

source: Mick Wolfe (comprehensium).


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