“[God] reckons righteousness to them, not because he accounts them to have kept his law personally (which would be a false judgment), but because he accounts them to be united to one who kept it representatively (and that is a true judgment)”

—J. I. Packer, “Justification,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984], p. 596.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.

  2. Thanks Nick. I think you are right. Logizomai refers to facts not suppositions. The question then becomes the particualr way this is so, that is, how we are reckoned as truly righteous. On account of being in Christ, having one’s identity founded in the crucified, risen Savior, God looks upon us with redemptive favor and acceptance. Having been crucified with Christ, as to our old, Adamic self, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20). We are, as Ephesians says, seated in the heavenly realm with Christ, members of God’s new creation where old things have gone and new things have come. On account of this movement from death to life, God looks upon us as being in his Son, and on this basis we are considered to be truly righteous. It is an “alien” righteous insofar as it doesn’t emerge from our own souls, but comes from outside of us. However, it is real or actual in that God’s kingdom has really been inaugurated and we are truly members of it.

    I don’t expect you to agree with this, but perhaps it clarifies a little more how Protestants understand imputation to work. Thanks again Nick, CC

  3. Hi,

    Based on what you said, how do you interpret “faith reckoned as righteousness”??

    The term ‘logizomai’ doesn’t allow one who is a ‘law breaker’ to be reckoned as a ‘law keeper’. Even if this is done ‘representatively’, the fact remains the individual’s own record remains ‘law breaker’.

    Also, I think you are onto something when you said: “The question then becomes the particualr way this is so, that is, how we are reckoned as truly righteous.”

    This is a good point, since the term logizomai merely speaks of the fact of the matter, the question turns to: where or how does this righteousness come about? Based on the grammar of the text, Romans 4 cannot answer this question, since it speaks of a true righteousness, but doesn’t speak of it’s origin. All that is sure is that the individual must be righteous in some true sense.

    To say this righteousness is equal to ‘Christ keeping the Law for me’ needs to be substantiated from some other text. There needs to be clear Scriptural evidence that “righteousness = Christ kept the law representatively for me,” since grammatically the notion doesn’t fit how ‘logizomai’ operates.

    The notion of being a ‘new creation’ and Christ living in us and such, which you speak of, sounds more like transforming the individual (Rom 8:10) rather than simply changing their legal status from ‘law breaker’ to ‘law keeper’.

  4. Thanks Nick, what lexicon are you using? I don’t see anything along the line of what you described in BAGD.

    The strongest argument for a reformed understanding of imputation, it seems to me, is the New Testament language of incorporation i.e. en christo. Because we are in Christ, we enjoy the benefits of his death and resurrection, and on the basis of this association we are declared not guilty. For example:

    Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Ephesians 2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

    Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–

    Colossians 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

    Thanks Nick, Chris

  5. Hi Chris,

    The lexicon I’m using is linked in the original post, and the page says: “Greek lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.”” That said, I’m also going by how the Bible itself is using the term, not just a dictionary definition.

    I didn’t see your answer to my question: Based on what you said [about logizomai], how do you interpret “faith reckoned as righteousness”??

    As for your claim imputation=incorporation, I’m not sure I would agree with that, since I fully believe in incorporation but don’t see where imputation is taught in Scripture. I would simply read each of your texts adding the next verse in the context, Rom 8:1-2, Eph 2:5-6, Phil 3:9-10, Col 3:1ff. In each case the Christian’s soul is being transformed/renovated by Christ’s power. A soul gong from “dead” to “alive” is not the language of imputation, but rather the infusion of life/grace.

    I don’t see where “righteousness = Christ kept the law representatively for me” is in any way taught in those texts. From the standpoint of diligently searching the Scriptures, I’d need more explicit proof that such a notion were true, else I’d be blindly accepting a teaching without Scriptural support. I would add a simple request to my above question, and that would be show me your *top 3* passages that you believe prove “righteousness = Christ kept the law representatively for me.”

  6. Thanks Nick. I appreciate your time and energy in formulating such thoughtful questions.

    There appear to be three basic ways that the concept of imputation is applied in the New Testament, the third of which is the topic of our discussion.

    In the first type of imputation, God imputes to us what actually belongs to us in the first place. Where Romans 5:12 says that “death passed upon (logizomai) all men, for that all have sinned”, death is part of our spiritual heritage from Adam. Death has been reckoned to our account. Adam’s sins was not his alone, but it was placed on every person’s account, on the debit side, you might say.

    In the second type of imputation, God the Father imputes to the Lord Jesus Christ that which does not belong to him. 2 Cor. 5:21 says that “he (Christ) was made to be (logizomai) sin for us, even though he knew no sin…”. This is the Bible concept of substitution; Christ died for our sins, not his own. Isaiah 53:4-6. The verse does not say that Christ became a sinner, but that sin was set to his account that was not his.

    The third type of imputation occurs when God imputes (credits) to the sinner what is not actually his. Again, 2 Cor. 5:21, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Here, the actual perfect righteousness of God is credited to us. This righteousness, which is placed on the credit side of our ledger, is known as imputed righteousness or justification.

    God declares men to be righteous on the basis of faith. So the text you mentioned, Romans 4:3, says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him (logizomai) as righteousness.” Accordingly, the law breaker becomes a law keeper in the sight of God. As in the Old Testament sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, a substitionary sacrifice covers the covenant members with God’s favor. This sacrifice doesn’t actually make him more righteous, but since it prefigures the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God who actually takes away the sin of the world, it pays the debt on our behalf. Thus, it is, as Paul says in Eph 2:8-9, “by grace we are saved through faith, and this not of ourselves, not as a result of works lest anyone should boast.”

    You write: “In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” *is the English term for* “reckon/impute/credit/etc.” With all due respect, this is an exegetical fallacy. That a Greek word “is the English term for” anything is patently false. That’s not now language works, which is why better lexicons don’t offer one single meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word, but instead, offer a semantic range, the specific meaning of which is determined by the context of a passage. Walter Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, considered the standard lexicon by Catholics and Protestants alike, suggests that Rom 4 conveys the idea of “crediting something to someone.” As it was true of Abraham (looking forward in history to the death and resurrection of Messiah) so it is true of us (looking backward on the event).

    The three texts that first come to mind on the topic of incorporation are the following:

    Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–

    Thanks again Nick. Richest blessings to you and yours! Chris

  7. Hi Chris,

    You said there are three main ways imputation is used in the NT. However, when you insert the term “logizomai” into Rom 5:12 and 2 Cor 5:21, I must point out the term doesn’t appear there. The term logizomai is used 40 times in the NT, so I believe it’s safe to say that if Paul intended to teach imputation, he was fully aware of logizomai and could have used it, but didn’t.

    Further, when you say the Father imputes to Jesus “that which does not belong to him,” namely guilt of sinners, but again, I think that’s a jump to conclusions. This also goes directly against your initial claim that God only logizomai what is in fact true. St Augustine and the other Fathers interpreted 2 Cor 5:21 as “made a sin offering,” corresponding to the OT Levitical sacrifices which sometimes went by the term “sin”. And this would correspond to how the Levitical animals had to be “without blemish” to be a worthy sacrifice.

    On the “third type” of imputation, you say God “imputes (credits) to the sinner what is not actually his,” but this is precisely what logizomai *cannot* mean!
    You spoke of “This righteousness, which is placed on the credit side of our ledger, is known as imputed righteousness or justification,” yet I’ve not seen Scripture speak like this. We must take care not to project presuppositions on the text.

    You interpret “faith reckoned as righteousness” as “the law breaker becomes a law keeper in the sight of God,” but where are you getting this? Going back to the second post where you agreed “logizomai refers to facts,” a reading of “faith reckoned as righteousness” means faith itself was reckoned as factually a righteous act or quality.

    When I said logizomai is the English word for count/reckon/etc, all I was saying is that is how it’s translated into English. I agree that the usage/meaning depends on context, but that’s precisely why I quoted Romans 4:4 which uses logizomai precisely how I’ve been claiming from the start.

    Based on the three texts you cite, I don’t see anything stating in any even implicit way that “Christ kept the law representatively for me.” If Rom 8:1, Gal 2:20, and Phil 3:9 are the “strongest” proof texts you have for that teaching, then my conscience is not bothered by rejecting on the grounds of no good Biblical reason to come to that conclusion.

    Allow me to ask you one more question: how do you interpret Romans 4:4, specifically how it uses the term Logizomai?

    God Bless,

  8. Thanks Nick,
    We have to be careful that we don’t reduce the doctrine of imputation to the word logizomai. Perhaps the reason why you’re finding my explanation frustrating is that I (with a growing number of biblical theologians) don’t look to logizomai to carry most of the exegetical weight in arguing for imputation. Once again, I find the idea of incorporation to be more persuasive. I am sorry you don’t find Rom 8, Gal 2:20, and Phil 3:9 helpful in this regard.

    As for Romans 4:4, you might substitute the word, “reckoned” or “credited” with the word “considered” to shed light on Paul’s meaning.

    As for 2 Cor 5:21 refering to the Lord Jesus as a sin offering, as Augustine and others argue, I entirely agree. Such an interpretation is compatible with the concept of impution, in the sense that Jesus takes the sin that belonged to us. Praise God!

    Thanks Nick, Chris

  9. Hi Chris,

    You could very well be right, I was approaching this as if you did put the majority of the exegetical weight on logizomai. But I came to this conclusion since that’s the term Romans 4 employs, and this chapter is considered the cardinal text for “imputed righteousness.”

    I would say I largely agree with the concept of “incorporation,” so I *do* see it in the texts you cite…the catch is that I’ve not seen “incorporation” defined along the lines of “Christ kept the law representatively for me.” If I’m incorporated into someone’s family, and from that adoption attain the rights of a son, there was no “keeping the law representatively” going on. So “incorporation” doesn’t necessitate substitution.

    On the subject of Romans 4:4, I would agree “considered” is how logizomai is being used here. And since 4:4 is sandwiched between “reckoned as righteousness” in v3,5, I see warrant for that same substitution resulting in: “faith was considered as righteousness.” With this, seeing this chapter as speaking of “imputed righteousness” begins to fade.

    I’m glad we can agree that 2 Cor 5:21 is speaking of a “sin offering,” but I think you make a mistake in thinking a sin offering models imputation or taking the punishment we deserved. That’s not actually how the Levitical offerings happened if you take a careful look at Leviticus.

    For example, Leviticus 3:1-2 says: “If someone’s offering is a fellowship offering, and he offers an animal from the herd, he is to present before the LORD an animal without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it”.

    The most important detail to recognize here is that this offering wasn’t about “sin” – that’s what the “sin offering” of Lev 5 was for. This offering of Lev 3 is a ‘fellowship’/’peace’ offering, which is a free will offering. Thus, the animal wasn’t having sin imputed to it, nor was the animal getting the punishment the man deserved, yet this uses precisely the language (esp 3:2) which you yourself associate with imputation.

    Another detail (of many) is that Leviticus 5, speaking on the “sin offering”, is only about non-grave sins. The Torah punished grave sins with the death penalty or being “cut off” from the Nation and there was no sacrifice to atone for those grave sins. Thus, in Lev 5, speaking on the “sin offering”, for sins *not* culpable of death, it makes no sense to say the death penalty was transferred to the animal since that wasn’t the penalty they deserved. Also, Lev 5:13 adds the detail that if someone cannot afford an animal, they can substitute a sack of flour…yet a sack of flour cannot be killed or receive the death penalty, nor can sin be imputed to it.

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