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A Biblical Assessment of John MacArthur’s Double Imputation

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 11, 2021

“We insist that a legal transaction is obviously not a righteousness manifested apart from the law according to Romans 3:21.”

No surprise that in this day of double speaking deception, that a religion claiming to be the epitome of biblical justification by faith alone is rather the epitome of justification by the law. Biblically speaking, justification is apart from the law altogether, not the standard for justification imputed to us by a perfect law-keeper. Who keeps the law is irrelevant; the problem is the law as the standard for justification…period. What then, makes us righteous? Answer: the new birth that infuses righteousness into our being. We are justified because the seed of God is IN us, and therefore, we are without sin because there is no law to judge us (1John chapter 3). We are righteous, holy, and called to holiness because we are the literal offspring of God. We are now slaves to righteousness, and the antithesis of our former life as slaves to unrighteousness. We are not merely “declared” righteous, we ARE righteous. We are righteous as a state of being. Not only because the law is ended for us, but because we are partakers of the divine nature. Our sin is not merely covered, it is ended.

What we have is a gift from the modern day prince of preachers, Mr. Church himself, John MacArthur Jr. in the form of an editorial recently published in The Journal of the Master’s Seminary (Spring 2021 edition). It’s a gift because the editorial outlines the major points of justification by faith and supplies multiple smoking guns concerning the doctrine’s justification by the law. Macarthur begins with the following:

Calvin famously referred to the doctrine of justification by faith as the principal hinge on which true religion hangs. Luther called it the article by which the church stands or falls. They did not overstate the case.

As one who constantly decries baptismal regeneration, MacArthur loses all creditability right out of the gate. Luther and Calvin both were overt proponents of baptismal regeneration. But, as we know, the church is completely comfortable with contradictions and we will continue to belabor the point.

The principle of sola fide (faith as the sole instrument of justification) is the heart and soul of biblical soteriology. It is an essential tenet of gospel truth, stressed repeatedly in Scripture from Genesis 15:63 to Revelation 17:14.4.

Well, that’s not true. The sole instrument of salvation is the new birth. The Spirit regenerates us in response to our faith. As Christ said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” As stated in 2Peter 1: 3,4;

As all things to us His divine power (the things pertaining unto life and piety) hath given, through the acknowledgement of him who did call us through glory and worthiness, through which to us the most great and precious promises have been given, that through these ye may become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped from the corruption in the world in desires (YLT).

MacArthur continues:

Justification by faith is the main precept the apostle Paul systematically explains in the first eight chapters of Romans. It is the primary doctrine he defends in his epistle to the Galatians, the singular truth that defines historical evangelicalism, the material principle of the Protestant Reformation, and the very anchor of biblical orthodoxy. The
doctrine of justification distinguishes biblical Christianity from every other religion.

No, Protestantism is very much like every justification by law soteriology that has ever come down the pike, particularly, the Pharisees that were constantly dogging Paul and were his primary nemesis. But, in fact, as MacArthur states, what he describes in the editorial is right out of the “material principle of the Protestant Reformation.” He even cites Martin Luther’s “alien righteousness” which is the central point of Protestant soteriology. This smoking gun is indicative of Luther’s denial of the biblical new birth and how he redefined it.

Just as justification by faith is the centerpiece of soteriology and the very marrow of the gospel, the principle of imputed righteousness is the necessary center and soul of the doctrine of justification. Put simply, this indispensable article of faith means that righteousness is imputed (or credited to the account of) all who lay hold of Christ by faith. This is done by a forensic reckoning—meaning a legal transaction, like a courtroom verdict. It entails a transfer of credit. The apostle Paul repeatedly uses the Greek expression logizomai to speak of the righteousness imputed to believers. In the New American Standard Bible, this verb is most often translated as “credited,” but it is also occasionally rendered “reckoned,” “take[n] into account,” “regarded,” “suppose[d],” and other near synonyms. It evokes the idea of an accounting— specifically a transfer from one ledger to another, or the relocation of an asset from one agent’s account to another’s.

Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Galatians that there is no law that can give life, so why would Christ keep the law perfectly for purposes of imputing life? Protestant imputation does not impute life, it only imputes a legal standing.”

Protestants really like to talk about the “imputed righteousness of Christ.” And herein is the major difference between justification by new birth and justification by faith. We reject the idea that our righteousness is a mere declaration or legal transaction, we insist that salvation makes us righteous as a state of being. In other words, the transaction is a metaphysical reality in which we are transformed from a former being to a new being. Incredibly, Protestants like MacArthur state that justification by faith is the opposite of justification by law-keeping, and then declare us righteous via a legal statement. That’s not a righteousness “apart from the law.” It’s a law based righteousness with perfect law-keeping being the standard for righteousness. The fact that we are born of God makes us righteous; Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Galatians that there is no law that can give life, so why would Christ keep the law perfectly for purposes of imputing life? Protestant imputation does not impute life, it only imputes a legal standing. We insist that a legal transaction is obviously not a righteousness manifested apart from the law according to Romans 3:21. Again, who keeps the law is irrelevant; the law informs us about salvation and Christian living, but it has no ability to make us righteous nor does it impart life. The re-creation makes us righteous.

MacArthur, like all Protestant scholars, makes much of the Greek word logizomai to insinuate that believers are only declared righteous. But a cursory word study indicates the word often refers to a true judgment, or assessment about something or someone. When we have a home inspected by a home inspector, we don’t want a mere legal statement saying the house is in sound order as that does us little good after the purchase, if the house, in reality, is not in sound shape. Want we want, before we invest in the house, is a true assessment. This is why we would never accept an assessment from a home inspector representing the seller, right? At any rate, to say logizomai only refers to a legal declaration is patently false; in contrast, it refers to a sound assessment about a person. Abraham was declared righteous by God because he was righteous. Ironically, Protestants stake their whole gospel on the idea that God’s court of law returns verdicts that are not true. The fact that so many people buy into this is utterly bizarre. Not only that, they claim this present justification declaration is not a “final justification.”

Of course, when a believer is justified, that person’s sins are fully forgiven, and the slate is wiped clean of every offense—past, present, and future. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). But justification is much more than that. Believers also receive full credit for a perfect righteousness that they have done nothing to earn; it is provided for them. They are declared righteous not for any merit of their own, but because of a spotless righteousness that they receive. It is an alien righteousness, in that it comes from a source outside of them

Of course, when a believer is justified, that person’s sins are fully forgiven, and the slate is wiped clean of every offense—past, present, and future. ‘Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (5:1). Sounds good, right? Besides, clear statements from the Bible have to be addressed when they contradict your false gospel, right? That’s why MacArthur’s, “Of course…” is then prefaced with, “But….” So, here it comes, right? Indeed, “…justification is much more than that.” Oh really? Only question is, what is the “much more”? Is it the addition of a mere legal declaration based on the perfect law-keeping of someone else, which is hardly justification APART from the law, or it is a literal death of the old self and a resurrection to a totally new life? It is clearly the former.

Furthermore, in classic Protestant doublespeak in which “but” is a favorite conditional conjunction, an “if” (another favorite Protestant conjunction) must be added to “past, present, and future.” All Protestant elements of soteriology are conditional. Most elements are followed by “if” and “but” always. The primary condition is allegiance to the church’s authority. Granted, the term “justified by faith” is in the Bible, but it hardly means what Protestant orthodoxy says it means. It means we are justified by the new birth that faith brings. As 1John states, we are presently without sin because God’s seed is in us. This presents a problem for Protestant orthodoxy: once God’s life is in us, can we reasonably believe that God’s life within us would leave or cease? That’s why Protestantism must teach that righteousness is always “outside of us” or was never made part of our “fallen nature.” This is Martin Luther’s alien righteousness doctrine. Even the mere legal declaration is conditional by misusing 1John 1:9: we are only cleansed of all unrighteousness IF we repent of what Protestants call “present sin.” 1John 1:9, in truth, is addressing the Gnostic belief that salvation comes progressively through increased knowledge rather than a onetime repentance that cleanses us from all unrighteousness forever.

“Grace is not a covering for remaining under law, it is the end of sin.”

The clear grammar of 1John 1:9 states this, while Protestant orthodoxy states that the verse is referring to a daily cleansing of sin conditional on daily repentance, which of course, can only be granted when one is under the authority of church. In context of the verse itself, “all” is not qualified in regard to a space of time. It simply states that we are cleansed of all unrighteousness, and this assumes all unrighteousness that has ever existed in regard to the individual. All unrighteousness past, present, and future is assumed unless otherwise stated, and it isn’t. The Gnosticism John was addressing taught that only the body possessed sin, but the spirit was free from sin. This denied a need for salvation through repentance and claimed a progressive salvation through increased knowledge of mysteries.

In Old Testament terms, they are “clothed … with garments of salvation”; “wrapped … with a robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “God credits righteousness [to them] apart from works” (Rom 4:6). It is a perfect righteousness, “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (3:22, NKJV).

What is the fundamental difference between the church gospel and the home fellowship gospel? That is, justification by faith versus justification by new birth. A major theme in the New Testament is the freedom of believers. Freedom from what? Clearly, the law. Old Testament believers were captive to the law because all sin was imputed to the law, and the law was not yet ended by Christ. However, we may note that the Old Covenant is “passing away” and is not yet abrogated because all condemnation is yet defined by the law and the power of sin is the law (1Corinthians 15:56).

Nevertheless, though all condemnation comes from the law, under the Old Covenant, the law was an atonement for sin. That is, a covering for sin, not an ending of sin. This is the cardinal point of the book of Hebrews. The priests of the Old Covenant were overseers of a ministry that supplied a perpetual covering for sin. If you were an unbeliever, the law condemned you; if you were a believer, the law’s rituals covered you. It took many sacrifices because sin remained. Old Testament believers were captive to the law for atonement. Now, Christ is the one sacrifice that ended all sin forever for those who are in Him.

When Christ ended the law, He set the captives free (Ephesians 48, Isiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). What then, are believers free from? Clearly, condemnation, but condemnation, sin, and the law are mutually inclusive.

How then, can the who’s who of church, that is John MacArthur et al, continually call our salvation an “atonement”? The answer follows: according to justification by faith, Christ is only a covering for sin, and not an ending of sin. Atonement is ALWAYS a perpetual forgiveness, and not a once and for all time forgiveness. When MacArthur et al state that we are forgiven for past, present, and future sin, they fail to include the conditions that come with an atonement gospel. It is noteworthy that only one New Testament English version uses the word “atonement” once, and the Greek word translated as such actually means “reconciliation.”

Bottom line: atonement does not appear in the New Testament. Christ is not an atonement for sin; He is the ending of sin along with its condemnation. ALL condemnation comes from the law.

Atonement is the basis for Martin Luther’s alien righteousness, or the idea that all righteousness remains outside of the believer. Outside, as in a cloak of righteousness that is Christ. Hence, Christ is a coat, not a savior, and the gospel is a cover-up. Grace is a covering for remaining under law. Furthermore, atonement must be identified with the Old Covenant, and not the New. Christ is not the manifestation of a righteousness identified with the Old Covenant, He is the manifestation of righteousness APART from the Old Covenant (Romans 3:21). Of course, Protestants confuse this age-old Pauline nemesis through their “vital union” doctrine. But, that doctrine is like a union that exists when a person puts on a coat; the righteousness still remains outside of the believer. People are unified with a coat when they put it on, but it doesn’t change who they are.

A true child of God is the righteous offspring of God through the new birth. The family of God is a literal family. God’s seed is IN us, NOT outside of us (1John chapter 3).

Moreover, atonement allows condemnation to remain in the law. The law remains a written code that condemns. Atonement also infers that no real change in nature has occurred and its subjects are still under the condemnation of the law. Atonement does not change a believer’s relationship to the law. The law can only still bring death, and not life. Atonement keeps its subjects under the law of sin and death, and not free to pursue the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2).

Christ is not our cloak for unrighteousness; He is our freedom.

The faculty of The Master’s Seminary object to all such attempts to do away with the principle of imputed righteousness, and this edition of The Master’s Seminary Journal will explore what Scripture teaches about the subject, demonstrating why this doctrine is so fundamental. It is (and always has been) one of the vital points affirmed in the TMS doctrinal statement:

We teach that justification before God is an act of God (Rom 8:33) by which He declares righteous those who, through faith in Christ, repent of their sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 7:10; Isa 55:6–7) and confess Him as sovereign Lord (Rom 10:9–10; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 4:5; Phil 2:11). This righteousness is apart from any virtue or work of man (Rom 3:20; 4:6) and involves the imputation of our sins to Christ (Col 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21). By this means God is enabled to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).

Though not addressed in this article entirely, a lot of Bible verses cited by proponents of double imputation simply do not say what the advocates say the verses say. In a moment, we will address the verses they use to say it is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us. But first, a little more needs to be said about double imputation and its connection to Martin Luther’s alien righteousness.

Simply stated, it is the idea that believers do not receive an intrinsic righteousness, or infused righteousness from God. The primary straw man is the idea that infused righteousness is an exclusively Catholic doctrine when in fact, Catholicism is a progressive justification (salvation) just like Protestantism. Both religions attest to a present sin that condemns unless atoned for through the church. Protestants play word games with Luther’s alien righteousness that don’t directly deny the biblical new birth, but remember, “In Old Testament terms, they are ‘clothed … with garments of salvation’; ‘wrapped … with a robe of righteousness’ (Isa 61:10). Or in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘God credits righteousness [to them] apart from works’ (Rom 4:6).” Though MacArthur deliberately confuses the idea by implying alien righteousness only applies to the source, in fact, it teaches that ALL righteousness remains outside of the believer and we “have no righteousness of our own.” Well, when you receive a gift, if it is really a gift, the receiver takes ownership of it or else it’s not really a gift. How silly to deny that you have your father’s DNA because you were born of him, and to say such would be claiming a “life of your own.” Just because you received life from your father doesn’t mean you don’t have a life of your own. How silly to say you only belong to your father because he has declared such legally, but not because you were born of him. And, the only reason you share his DNA is because he has declared that also.

Double imputation is the idea that cancellation of sin against the law is not enough to declare us righteous, but perfect law-keeping must also be imputed to us. Protestant scholars even say that we are yet under the “righteous demands of the law” and thus need the continual imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Perfect law-keeping must be maintained for believers to be considered righteous. Luther and Calvin were very clear on this. We ask, “How in the world is that not UNDER LAW?” Romans 6:14 makes it certain that we cannot be under grace and under law both. But clearly, justification by faith makes grace a covering for remaining under the law. Anyone under law is yet unregenerate by biblical definition, and so, it should not surprise us that while speaking out of the other side of their mouths, Protestant scholars state exactly that. The prominent Protestant leader and BFF of John MacArthur, John Piper states unequivocally that “Believers need to be saved.” This is the Protestant doctrine of “final justification.” In the end, faithfulness to the church’s “ordinary means of grace” results in a continuing double imputation of Christ’s forgiveness and perfect law-keeping leading to a final salvation. Per the usual, the TMS journal edition dedicated to Luther’s alien righteousness dances around this fact with page after page of doublespeak accordingly.

“Simul justus et peccator’ means that a Christian is at the same time both righteous and a sinner.” However, the nuance that Protestants are famous for leaves out the idea that the righteousness of a believer is only a legal declaration and not the believer’s state of being. In other words, believers remain sinners, and are only declared righteous by legal declaration, which is hardly a righteousness apart from the law to begin with.

Examples of Protestant nuance on this are myriad, but the following can be offered: in the editorial, MacArthur writes, “This righteousness is apart from any virtue or work of man (Rom 3:20; 4:6) and involves the imputation of our sins to Christ (Col 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21). By this means God is enabled to ‘be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Rom 3:26).” Grammatically, it can be determined that “of man” would include saved people, but the way it is worded by MacArthur is deliberately ambiguous. Many will assume this refers to pre-salvation. But, Luther wrote extensively about man’s inability, lost or saved, to do any good work. Luther insisted that believers still sin against the law and fall short of perfect law-keeping and remain “sinners.” Luther’s “Simul justus et peccator’ means that a Christian is at the same time both righteous and a sinner.” However, the nuance that Protestants are famous for leaves out the idea that the righteousness of a believer is only a legal declaration and not the believer’s state of being. In other words, believers remain sinners, and are only declared righteous by legal declaration, which is hardly a righteousness apart from the law to begin with.

Furthermore, saying Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us is a denial of the new birth and that’s why the Bible never states that as the case. You see, the idea that Christ obtained righteousness through perfect law-keeping, a law righteousness, that is then imputed to “believers,” makes it necessary to say that it is His righteousness imputed to us rather than God’s righteousness. Note: one is imputed through the law, while the other brings about a new nature. This is the same kind of error concerning the law that incited Paul to write his letter to the Galatians. Invariably, the only two verses that Protestants can use to even come close to the idea that Christ’s perfect law-keeping is imputed to us are 1Corintians 1:30 and 2Corithians 5:21. Neither say any such thing and instead state that it is God’s righteousness that we have. This is important because it is a father who gives life in a family while Christ is our brother in the family of God construct.

At the end of MacArthur’s editorial, he includes a summary of affirmations and denials. These further our points made in this post:

We affirm that the perfect righteousness of Christ is far more than mere innocence; it entails perfect compliance with all God’s commandments and absolute conformity to all His moral virtues (Matt 5:48).

Hardly a righteousness apart from the law.

We affirm that the lifelong obedience of Christ was necessary in order for Him to be a suitable sacrifice for sin and “the source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5:7–9; 9:14). In other words, apart from His full and active obedience, we could not be saved.

So, perfect law-keeping made Him suitable, not who He was, viz, the Son of God.

We affirm that Christ “fulfill[ed] all righteousness” as a man by rendering perfect obedience to the law’s commandments (Gal 4:4); by publicly submitting to a rite that signified repentance (Matt 3:15); and by suffering the full penalty of sin on the cross—not merely physical death, but also the outpouring of an incomprehensible measure of divine wrath against Him (Isa 53:10; Rom 8:32; Phil 2:8).

We affirm double imputation. Just as the price of our sin was charged to Christ’s account (Isa 53:4–6; Heb 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18), so the full credit of His righteousness is reckoned to our account (Isa 53:11; Rom 5:19; 2 Cor 5:21).

This circumvents the believer’s ability to offer their members for instruments of righteousness. It denies the priesthood of believers.

We affirm that justification supplies believers with a more perfect righteousness than Adam could ever have attained, even if he had not fallen (1 Cor 15:47–49). This gives the redeemed a secure standing before God and elevates them to a higher position of spiritual privilege than Adam ever enjoyed (Eph 1:3).

The point is that Adam was a living creature like angels, but Christ made it possible for us to be God’s literal offspring through the new birth.

We deny that justification is remission of sins only, apart from the imputation of any positive credit, merit, or virtue (Isa 45:24–25; Rom 4:22–25; 5:18–19; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9).

We deny that God abrogated or abridged the law in order to justify us; rather, Christ fulfilled it perfectly for our sake (Isa 42:21; Matt 5:17; Rom 3:26, 31;10:4).

Because Protestants don’t understand Romans 8:2 or how the new birth changes the believer’s relationship to the law.

We deny that “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” speaks merely of a change in status, the erasure of guilt, or anything less than the full credit of perfect obedience reckoned to the account of the one who believes (Rom 5:19).

What is the difference between a ledger accounting and a status? “Full credit” for someone else’s righteousness does not change anyone’s nature or state of being. The new birth does.

We deny that Jesus merely paid the penalty the law demands for our sin without also fulfilling the law’s righteous requirement on our behalf (Rom 8:3). A payment for sin’s guilt is no substitute for obedience (1 Sam 15:22);
therefore truly perfect righteousness requires perfect obedience (Deut 6:25; Matt 5:48; James 2:10).

Which means perfect law-keeping must be obtained and sustained by someone other than believers to maintain a saved status. And if love and good works are synonymous, and they are, neither can believers truly love.

We deny that forensic imputation in any way diminishes or subverts the truth of our spiritual union with Christ (Rom 6:3–5; Eph 2:5–6; Phil 3:9–11)

Because people are joined together with a coat when they put it on. That’s far from being an impressive union.

True believers are part of God’s offspring and His family. They don’t sin because where there is no law, there is no sin. True children of God fail to love because of weakness. Weakness is NOT sin. All things are lawful for them, but not all things are of faith or love. Failing to live by faith can lead to the Father’s chastisement, but never any condemnation of the law. We are not under the “righteous demands of the law,” but rather only indebted to love. The power of sin is the law; why would Christ, therefore, seek to fulfill it? There is no law that can give life, why would He seek to fulfill such a law? If love fulfills the law, and it does, certainly, Christ would have fulfilled the law in the first few minutes of His life.

True Christians are FREE to love God and others aggressively as informed by the law…

…with NO fear of condemnation.

paul