Much discussion takes place between Christians regarding the doctrine of imputation. After salvation, does God look at us and only see Jesus? Is imputation just a legal fiction that doesn’t have any effect on our growth in sanctification? These are a few things I would like to explore.

First of all, we cannot get to heaven and be in God’s presence with our own righteousness. Our “filthy rags” (Isaiah 54:6) don’t even come close to getting us into heaven, where no unrighteous thing can dwell. It takes the blood of Jesus, who imputed to us His righteousness when He took upon Himself our sins (without committing them) on the cross to accomplish that.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

But does that mean, as some teach, that when God sees us He only sees Jesus and none of our sins? If that were the case, entire sections of the New Testament would be unnecessary and meaningless! Why would Jesus have given John the letters to the Seven churches of Asia if God didn’t see their sin, or if their sin didn’t matter? Why have Paul rebuke the man in Corinth who was living with his father’s wife if God just sees Jesus when He looks at us? Why even set up church discipline if God doesn’t see a believer’s sin?

No, God still sees our sin, and if we are children of God He disciplines us for them as His children (Hebrews 12:10-11). The righteousness that is imputed to us does not just sit there on paper as a legal decree by a judge, but has a desired effect in our lives! These effects are not the basis of our salvation or the method of keeping us saved, but are the fruit of imputation. Indeed they are one of the purposes of our salvation!

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)

What would make no sense would be for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us and have no effect on our sanctification. This imputed righteousness is the very power of God that enables us to obey His commands. Rather than saying “my sin doesn’t matter because God doesn’t see my sin”, we should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith and truly children of a Father who disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:8; 2 Corinthians 13:5)!

So are believers “the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus”? Yes! Does that mean God doesn’t see our sin? No! It means we are family members who have been empowered by the grace of the imputed righteousness of Christ to grow in holiness and sanctification and persevere until the end.

Imputed righteousness was the basis of our justification. Justification is where the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to us.

“Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:22-25 (NASB)

But growth in sanctification is what happens as we live out that imputed righteousness in our daily lives. We must not conflate the two into one reality. Justification is the point in time of our salvation, which is the basis of imputation which empowers sanctification that will result in glorification. They are all terms that can be defined separately, but are realities that are always found together in the lives of the children of God.