“Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?” by John Piper

“Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?” by John Piper

Piper, John. Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?  Wheaton: Crossway, 2002.

In Counted Righteous in Christ, John Piper expresses his biblical understanding of justification and imputation. He begins his argument by laying out the practical reasons for the book. He wrote this book for the sake of churches reclaiming a heart for doctrine, (22-23) and for the sake of his family. (27-30) In practical terms he discusses why the doctrine of justification is important in regard to preparing weekly sermons, (30-31) practicing biblical counseling, (31-32) mobilizing world evangelization, (32-33) planting churches, (33-34) spreading a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things, (34-35) and embracing a truth that makes the church sing. (35-38) 

The first two chapters are the application of the exegesis of Scripture he does in chapter three. One would normally expect the exegetical foundation to be built before an application is made. This structure is effective though. By writing the book with the application first he makes the readers aware of practical application of the foundational and more difficult reading ahead. It’s a hook, using the doctrine’s relevance to draw the reader into a deeper consideration of the text. The structure creates a strong incentive to keep reading the book.

Piper devotes thirty pages to the first two chapters, sixty-seven pages to chapter three, and five pages to chapter four. The structure of the book seems a little off balance, but the structure expresses the emphasis of Piper’s thesis well. He wrote the book to argue the point that Scripture teaches justification by faith alone through the imputation of Jesus Christ’s righteousness to believers. It is no surprise then, that he devotes a majority of ink to the scriptural exegesis. Chapter three is a collection of five arguments against five challenges that Robert Gundry brings against the classical view of imputation. Piper clearly makes the point that justification is not from a believer’s obedience, but from “the gift of righteousness” or the “obedience of Christ” through which “many will be appointed or counted righteous”.

He makes five points in chapter three. (53-119) First, righteousness imputed to us is from an external source and not our own. (54-64) Second, this external righteousness is God’s. (64-69) Third, justification is not liberation from sin’s mastery. (69-80) Fourth, divine righteousness imputed to believers is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. (80-114)  Lastly, there is a relationship between Christ’s “blood and righteousness”. (114-19) Each of these points is a direct response to Robert Gundry’s following five arguments. First, that Romans 4:4-5 is a “bookkeeping framework”. (55) In this concept Gundry is happy to say that believers’ sin is credited to Christ, but not that the righteousness of Christ is credited to believers. (fn 55) Second, “Justification does not involve any positive imputation of divine righteousness (neither God’s nor Christ’s) to believers”. (65) Third, the salvific activity called “justification,” includes what has traditionally been called “sanctification.” Justification…has to do with liberation from sin’s mastery”. (70) Fourth, “The doctrine that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believing sinners needs to be abandoned as unbiblical”. (81) Fifth, “Gundry rightly makes the death of Christ central in the act of justification, but he does this to the exclusion of the imputation of divine righteousness”. (114)

Counted Righteous in Christ is an convincing response to the challenge that there is a developing standard in biblical theological circles that in, “New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness”. (fn 125) This is concerning to Piper because he sees that the Bible clearly teaches the imputation of Jesus Christ’s righteousness to believers (he exegetes the following Scripture passages to prove this: Rom 3:24-26, 28; 4:3,5-6; 5:12-19; 6:6-7; 8:3-4; 10:4; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; and Phil 3:9). By not teaching what the Bible teaches concerning the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in justification we diminish the glory of God in what was accomplished in the atonement at Calvary. Piper makes this clear by saying, “I am jealous for Christ to get all the glory he deserves in the work of justification. My concern is that in the more recent challenge to this doctrine that I am about to address he is robbed of a great part of his glory in becoming for us not only our pardon but our perfection; not only our redemption but our righteousness; not only the punishment for our disobedience but also the performer and provider of our perfect obedience. The new challenge to justification obscures…half of the glory in the work of justification”. (34-35)

I found this book to be helpful. It’s an excellent meditation on the doctrine of imputation. That said, it doesn’t cover the breadth of the atoning work of Jesus Christ (read John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied for a wider lens of what Christ accomplished on the cross). Piper achieves his goal well. I would highly recommend this book to enable the reader to glory more in what Christ accomplished in imputation. 

Noah Braymen is an elder at Redeemer Baptist Church and lives with his wife and three children in Des Moines, Iowa. You can find him on Twitter at @NoahBraymen.