The Great Exchange

“When we are united to Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . . . On the one hand, God declined to ‘impute’ our sins to us, or ‘count’ them against us, with the implication that he imputed them to Christ instead.  On the other, God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. . . . We ourselves have done nothing of what is imputed to us, nor Christ anything of what is imputed to him. . . . He voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.”


John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 1986), 148-149.

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. Wow, Chris! That’s powerful. Don’t we serve an awesome God?! Praise Him for loving us even though we sin, and choosing to send His Son to die on a cross for our sins so we could live in eternity with Him. God is so good!

  2. Hi Chris,

    I don’t want to bother you on this issue, but I had to at least comment once (if not twice).

    I think the term ‘logizomai’/imputation plays a serious role here, especially in the second half of the quote.

    When the quote says God didn’t impute our sins to us “with the implication that he imputed them to Christ instead,” that’s a pretty bold leap. Yes, 2 Cor 5:19 says sin was not logizomai to us…but to say that “implies” they were imputed to Christ is a logical fallacy. The term impute/logizomai isn’t used like that.

    Then the quote says: “God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us” I would object on the original grounds that no such righteousness as what he is speaking of is said to be imputed. The author might be speaking dogmatically, but it’s an ipse dixit as far as evidence goes.

  3. Dear Nick,
    Thanks again for your feedback.

    As far as biblical evidence, here are some texts that speak explicitly about God reckoning his righteousness to men and women in Christ:

    Romans 4:1 “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”

    Paul also conveys this idea in Galatians 3:

    Galatians 3:6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

    Another way to come at the idea of imputation is through the concept of “propitiation”—the satisfaction of God’s wrath on account of the substitionary death of the Lord Jesus. For instance:

    Romans 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (cf. Rom 5:1)

    The idea of being “clothed with righteousness” also helps us to understand imputation. So, for instance, it says in Isaiah 61:10:

    Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (cf. Zech 3:3-5).

    This is the way in which texts like Psalm 32:1 are understood. When God forgives and covers our sin, he does so with his righteousness: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

    In terms of divine clothing, The New Testament captures this idea when it speaks of believers being clothed with Christ. So, for example, Gal 3:27:
    Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    The theological assumption of this reasoning is the idea that Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated, the new creation has started. In Christ, we are now seated in the heavenly realm, enjoying fellowship with the father on account of our union with Christ. This union is the reason why are accepted, because in Christ we possess his righteousness.
    Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be *holy and blameless before him.* In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (cf. 2:6).

    It’s probably true that when evangelicals read the words “holy and blameless” in the above context, we assume that it is because of God’s righteousness; otherwise, we would find ourselves guilty, at least to some extent, or with blame. Catholics, it seems to me, get around this because of their doctrine of concupiscence, the notion that, having been baptized, one is without guilt, without having to be reckoned righteous. However, maybe you can help me to understand where the category of concupiscence is found in Scripture?

  4. Hi Joachim,

    Thanks. I honestly don’t know who the artist is. I found the image from a simple Google search. Yes, it has a striking quality doesn’t it. Thanks again, CC

  5. Hi Chris,

    I agree the Bible talks about “God’s Righteousness,” usually stated the “righteousness of God,” but Paul is speaking more specifically of “Righteousness of God the Father.” This Righteousness is not something the Father “earned” by keeping the Law perfectly, but rather is a quality of the Divine Nature. The “righteousness” Rom 3 is especially concerned about is God’s “promise fulfilling righteousness” which Jeremiah 33:14-18 beautifully explains. In that text, the Lord being their “Righteousness” means He “will fulfill the gracious promise” He made to Israel to send a saving Messiah.

    You claimed Romans 4 and Galatians 3 “speak explicitly about God reckoning his righteousness to men,” but nowhere do these texts “explicitly” identify this particular “righteousness” as that of “God’s” or “Christ’s”. If someone read a text like Hebrews 11:4, would they think this “righteousness” is “God’s” or “Christ’s”?

    As for the notion of “propitiation,” I don’t think that entails or suggests imputation at all. For example, the OT frequently speaks of propitiation/atonement, using the term in places like Genesis 32:20, and Exodus 32:30 (+Psalm 106:23, Deut 9:18-19), and Num 25:1-13 (+Ps 106:30f), as do Prov 16:6,14 and others, but never is imputation involved.

    The notion of “clothed with righteousness” might fit a bit better, but that hinges upon how “righteousness” is understood in those contexts. To my knowledge, Paul doesn’t employ this, at least not in any way linking it to “keeping the Law perfectly (in our place)”. And when it comes to “putting on Christ,” I don’t see any reference to this being “Christ’s Righteousness”, so that’s yet to be proven.

    Looking at Ps32:1 as you suggested, I don’t see any reference to God covering our sin “with his righteousness,” and 32:2b-6 doesn’t paint any pictures of imputation in my mind either, but rather innner transformation. This Psalm is parallel to David’s repenting in Psalm 51, which is about inner transformation as well.

    Lastly, you mentioned Eph 1, I agree that in Christ we are now seated in the heavenly realm and are “made alive” (2:3-5) and such, but this is the furthest thing from imputation. How can we be transformed and partaking if this is merely imputation? You conclude that this is “because in Christ we possess his righteousness,” but that’s the very thing under investigation (the word “righteousness” doesn’t even appear). Verse 4 about being “holy and blameless” is akin to various other such texts, speaking about God’s desire that our calling as Christians be sanctified, internally “clean”, as texts like 2 Thess 2:13f which is a direct parallel to Eph 1:3 and the ESV directly makes this cross reference.

    The Bible frequently calls men “righteous” and “holy” and such without ever suggesting they never sinned or were 100% perfect. That’s a Western-Legal projection onto Eastern/Jewish ways of thinking.

    You mentioned the notion of “concupiscence,” to which I’d turn to two texts to better understand:

    -James 1:13-15 explains that temptation/desires only amount to sin when acted upon by the will. Before that, they are not sin properly speaking. So if someone gets a lustful temptation that pops in their head, it’s not the sin of lust unless they stop to dwell on it rather than banish it. This is how Catholics understand “concupiscence”.

    -Romasn 7:8, the King James Version uses the term “concupiscence” here in reference to the temptations going on within us. But this isn’t taken as “sin” in the proper sense of violating God’s commandment by an act of the will. When Paul says sin is “dwelling in” him in Rom 7, this cannot mean sin as a black blob actually lives in him or his soul. Sin doesn’t have ontological existence, it’s not a “thing,” instead it’s a privation of good or a turning from good. To suggest, as some do, that our nature is literally “sinful” is the heresy of Manicheanism – something the St Augustine fought greatly against while affirming the notion of concupiscence.

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