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Double Imputation: A Contradiction?

If what God says is the ultimate truth and all things that contradict such truth are non-truths, then consider the following scenario that follows from a doctrine of double imputation:

1) God says that as far as he is concerned, I’m innocent and perfectly righteous.

2) The Bible, my pastor, my friends, and my wife say that as far as God is concerned, I sin, and that I’m a sinner, and that I should constantly confess my sin to God, repent of it, etc. etc.

If the Bible is God’s word, then God says I’m perfect (1), then proceeds to tell me that I’m a sinner and need to confess my sins and repent of them (2).

Of course, the easy way out of this dilemma would be the “paradox vs. contradiction” distinction (i.e. they aren’t both true in the same sense). But it’s not that easy …

Both status claims are with respect to ultimate human culpability before God now and at the day of judgment.  It is precisely because they are both claims about our status WITH RESPECT TO THE SAME THING that when we are declared righteous, it REPLACES our previous status as culpable sinners.  That is, the logical preconditions for the doctrine of double imputation is dependent on the status of righteousness being an alternative status of the same kind in order for it to be a replacement.    

But the implication of this would seem to be that we have two status’ before God—and whatever status’ we have before God are with respect to our ultimate culpability before God now and at the day of judgment. Therefore, we have two ultimate status’: 1) filthy, deserving of eternal damnation sinner and 2) perfectly righteous and deserving of eternal life.

If the status of Christ replaces our natural/earned/inherent status in Adam, then such entities must apply to the same KIND of status God has in mind for judging us on the last day, and therefore, it would not seem easy to use the paradox vs. contradiction distinction (at least not without a lengthy philosophical explanation or invoking of the category of mystery in the face of an apparent contradiction).

Other practical problems arise. Whoever is perfect actually deserves eternal life. If Christians are perfect in the present time (since God says they are once they believe in Christ and right now they are believers), they should be treated as perfect (i.e. we should live according to God’s ultimate truth).

If I really believe that the most ultimate truth about my brother in Christ’s status is that he is perfect, I should seek to treat him according to God’s truth—as one who is perfect. This goes beyond merely comforting him that he will be accepted by God on the day of judgment, but treating him as perfect every day of his life NOW (since this is God’s truth NOW and FOREVER).

But, of course, God’s word also says everyone (except Jesus) still sins and is therefore a sinner. And this is the tension I am trying to shine a light on. Do you see it? God says we are both perfect and not perfect, and it seems to be in the same sense—that is, this sense: before Him, in his judgment, as it relates to his evaluation of our culpability and moral status.

For those who accuse the double imputation of being guilty of a legal fiction (God proclaiming us to be something that we are in fact not), the response is usually this: Whatever God declares about us IS what’s true about us, so if God says we are perfect, it’s not a legal fiction—it’s the truth.

Before God, and in the sense of his moral and ethical evaluation of Christians, they are both perfect and non-perfect at the same time and (seemingly) in the same sense.

I could’ve spend a lot more time trying to articulate this tension more carefully and eloquently, but I don’t have the time. Sorry. Hope you get it. I’m sure this has been discussed somewhere in depth in some theological or philosophical journal somewhere, but I would love to read something in depth on this to get answers.

Anyone have any helpful thoughts or resources?


1 Comment

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