Discussions on social media can really get ‘interesting’, especially when they begin with a question. The questioner invariably thinks he/she asked something that would be clearly understood and thoughtfully discussed. That’s not always the case.Here’s a question that appeared in a social media feed just a couple of days ago.
Is imputation an essential doctrine to believe, that our sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness imputed to us.?
The responses were more interesting than the question, Some were well educated, and others not so much. When I read the question my first reaction was “Believe for what?” I didn’t think the question was clear enough to elicit an immediate answer. I did however want to offer a reply and a reason for my answer, which I connected to the subject of personal evangelism. Here it is. Feel free to comment.
Depends on what you mean by “essential doctrine to believe.”. Is it necessary to understand the term ‘imputation’ in order to be saved? In my opinion, no.
On the other hand, if, when an unbeliever, I understand that I am a sinner and Christ took my place on the Cross, I understand the atonement (even if I have not heard the word ‘atonement’) as well as something about imputation. When I believe that, with a God opened heart, I am saved.
Understanding all that imputation means comes later, as we grow in faith, as will other doctrines taught in the Bible that we don’t fully understand when we first believe in Christ for salvation. The Bible teaches the doctrine, and if the Bible teaches it, so will the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. In fact, understanding biblical doctrines serves to enrich our newfound faith! It is certainly possible to arrive at death’s door having never understood the doctrine of imputation in it’s fullness,
Having said that, It brings up a related question concerning personal evangelism. Do we need to, or might have the occasion to teach doctrines such as ‘imputation’ by their theological terms when sharing the good news of Christ with others who have yet to believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sin and salvation? To that, I can only answer “It depends.” Let me explain.
Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with lost sinners is a process of sorts, but it’s not a complicated one. God saves sinners by opening hearts to hear the gospel and by sending a messenger to apply the gospel message to a heart that He himself has opened to ‘hear’ it. Read the story of Lydia in Acts 16. While we don’t know the exact words Paul (the messenger) said to Lydia, we know that Paul defined the gospel as Christ’s death for the sins of his people (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Back to our gospel encounter. Let’s say it began with a conversation about a recent story in the news about a terrible crime that had recently been committed, something so inhumane that anyone hearing of it would be horrified. The question “Why would anyone do such a thing?” comes up, providing the perfect opportunity to take the conversation to the problem of sin in the human heart. The problem of sin leads to God’s answer to the problem, Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of men, which naturally leads to explaining the substitutionary atonement of Christ. ‘Imputation’ has just been covered, but without the term even being used.
What all this is leading to is the need for us who share Christ with others to understand underlying doctrines and be able to explain them in a loving and understanding manner. We are not to try and impress anyone with our knowledge of doctrine, but we can communicate our heartfelt desire that our hearers understand the message we bring.
Merely sharing the ‘Romans Road’ and pressing in for a decision just doesn’t cut it, although I have no doubt that sinners have been truly saved in that manner, but because God has prepared a heart for just that moment!
Most of all dear friends, remember that it is God, and God alone who saves sinners. At the same time know that the God who saves sinners has chosen other sinners (us) as his gospel messengers! And that, brothers and sisters, is the greatest privilege God has given his children!